Jennifer Brooks
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Jennifer Carnahan wants you to remember the real victim here.

The FBI had swooped in to arrest top GOP donor Anton "Tony" Lazzaro on child sex trafficking charges.

They seized his Ferrari, his hoard of gold bars, and his 13 cellphones. They jailed the 19-year-old chairwoman of the St. Thomas chapter of the Minnesota College Republicans on charges she helped him traffic minors for sex. At least 10 charges. At least six minors.

Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, knows Lazzaro well. He was a guest at her wedding, the co-host of her podcast, a generous donor to her husband's congressional campaign. As the state party pledged to donate Lazzaro's donations to charity, some party members pushed for a financial audit, for a reckoning of some sort. Carnahan pushed back.

She would not resign her leadership post just because the face smiling beside hers in so many photos was a face in a mug shot now.

She counterattacked, telling WCCO Radio that she "didn't have any direct knowledge on the alleged criminal activities."

She told KNSI radio that she was the victim of an attempted coup.

Carnahan, the first Asian American woman to lead the state party, blazed a trail that young Republican women like Nia Moore had once deeply admired. Once.

"I wanted her approval. I wanted to learn from her," Moore, chair of the Minnesota College Republicans, tweeted. "I wanted to be her."

Neither Moore nor the women who reached out to her agreed to an interview. Moore also did not identify the women, but in a statement online she said she was pawed by a drunken campaign staffer who, she says in a statement, assured her the only way to Carnahan was through him. Before she says she was told that sexual harassment is just something men do to beautiful girls. Before she says she was told to keep her mouth shut if she wanted any sort of future with the MNGOP.

She could have kept her mouth shut. Many do, when someone in power seems to share your goals and values. Even when that person doesn't seem to value you.

Instead, Moore and the Minnesota College Republicans called on Carnahan to resign. Since then, Moore has reposted accounts from unidentified sources on Twitter that she says are from former MNGOP staffers and interns, seeming to describe a workplace culture of harassment and abuse on Carnahan's watch. The Star Tribune has not been able to reach any of these women, although multiple GOP insiders say they have spoken with them and found them credible.

Asked about the posts, Carnahan's attorney told the Star Tribune the assertions were false and publishing them would be defamatory.

According to Carnahan, Republicans who have spoken against her, or called for her resignation, or shared an account of being harassed, belittled, or demeaned in the workplace opposed her during her bruising spring campaign for a third term as state chairwoman.

The re-election battle was "very destructive and heated, but I still walked away with 67% of the vote," she told KNSI. "And if you see all the people on social media, they are the same people that were working against me."

The scandal dragged on. The state executive committee met to discuss the situation and Carnahan's future with the party, but adjourned after they realized that conservative journalist Rebecca Brannon appeared to be live-tweeting the closed meeting.

There have been four executive directors of the state GOP since Carnahan took over in 2019. On Wednesday all four of them put out a statement that began like this:

"Ten years ago, Chair Tony Sutton resigned because under his leadership, the Republican Party of Minnesota was financially bankrupt. Today, the Party is morally bankrupt due to the leadership of Chair Jennifer Carnahan."

Kevin Poindexter, Becky Alery, Christine Snell and Andy Aplikowski described a workplace "ruled by grudges, retaliation, and intimidation."

Carnahan, they said, "is very much the person the supposed 'coup' is making her out to be." She berates and insults staff and "created an extremely toxic work environment, often yelling, demeaning and questioning loyalty."

The MNGOP executive committee meets again Thursday evening for a vote of confidence or no confidence in their chairwoman. The fact that they're talking about this scandal and not, say, the 2022 midterms, should tell you something about her leadership.

The fact that they have to hold a vote like this at all should also tell you everything you need to know.