Rep. Jim Hagedorn avoided answering the majority of questions put to him Friday by Rochester-area media about his office's expenditures on printing and mailings that ethics experts have said should be the subject of a House ethics investigation.
"We got an internal review that I started putting together by someone who understands all these complicated rules," Hagedorn said at a public appearance at Channel One Food Bank in Rochester. "We're going to issue that review. And at that time, we'll talk about the whole nine yards."
The Republican congressman rebuffed questions for the next 2-1/2 minutes, then terminated the interview with a "have a good day," and walked away from the media group to his car.
Watch the full interview:
Hagedorn has been embroiled in an ethics controversy since it was reported last week that Hagedorn's office paid $60,000 of his taxpayer-funded House allowance to a Texas-based company that was owned or partly owned by John Sample, a part-time staffer in Hagedorn's congressional office.
His office also spent another $340,000 over the past two years with Abernathy West LLC, a Delaware-based vendor formed last year whose ownership remains a mystery.
Hagedorn said he fired his chief of staff, Peter Su, in June over the questionable spending. But on Friday, Hagedorn was in no mood to cast any further light on his office's spending.
It was the first time Hagedorn has taken questions from Rochester media since the questioned spending came to light. When asked whether he knows who owns Abernathy West, Hagedorn replied, "I'm not at liberty to say. I don't. How's that?
Hagedorn would not discuss why he had fired his chief of staff, nor would he say whether Sample remains employed in his office. Hagedorn would also not reply to a question about whether he thought his office was in violation of House ethics rules, as one ethics expert reported by the PB claimed earlier this week.
"Which ethics expert? You got one side of it," Hagedorn said.
"We'll explain the whole thing when we put on our review," Hagedorn said, without saying when the review might be complete. "That's all I can tell you."
Hagedorn, a first-term congressman, has hired an prominent ethics attorney, Elliot Berke, well-known for his defense of disgraced congressmen. His clients have included former congressman Duncan Hunter, who is currently serving an 11-month prison term for misusing campaign funds, and Aaron Schock, who resigned in 2015 amid a scandal involving misuse of campaign funds.
Hagedorn was in Rochester to attend roundtable talks about food and nutrition at Channel One Food Bank in Southeast Rochester. Featured in the talks were U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky and Channel One Food Bank Executive Director Virginia Merritt. The discussion was closed to the press because of the need to maintain social distancing due to the pandemic. Hagedorn, Censky and Merritt then held a press conference in the Channel One parking lot.
Hagedorn is being challenged for his 1st Congressional District seat by DFL candidate Dan Feehan, who narrowly lost to Hagedorn in 2018.
In an article by the Minnesota Reformer, an independent news organization that first broke the story about Hagedorn's expenditures, Hagedorn said he has no ownership stake or anything to do with Abernathy West. Then he added that the printing was done in Rochester. But he did not namethe company.
"I do not own Abernathy West," Hagedorn told the Reformer. "I don't own it. I have no interest in it. I have nothing to do with it. However, those relationships were put together to have our printing done -- which was all done in Rochester, Minn., by the way -- I was not aware of it."