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Rep. Keith Ellison calls for investigation into abuse allegations against him

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is interviewed by a reporter after an event at the Church of the New Covenant Baptist in Detroit in 2016. (Nick King for The Washington Post)

As demand grew for further investigation into allegations that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) physically abused a former girlfriend, another Democrat joined the call for an additional inquiry: Ellison himself.

In a statement Wednesday, the congressman said he would ask the House Committee on Ethics to investigate claims that he dragged his former partner Karen Monahan off a bed by her feet while yelling obscenities at her during a 2016 fight.

“I am taking this step now because I am innocent and eager to see this entire matter resolved,” said Ellison, who is also the Democratic nominee for Minnesota Attorney General and deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Ellison has repeatedly denied the allegations, but calls for further investigation have grown louder lately — especially from those on the political right who accuse Democrats of setting a double standard by asking for an FBI probe of allegations against conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh while remaining quiet about Ellison.

Monahan went public with her allegations in August, days before Ellison won the Democratic primary. She also said Ellison was emotionally abusive and claims to have video footage of the 2016 incident but has declined to release it.

On Twitter, Monahan said she was happy there would be another investigation into her claims but said that Ellison’s call was political posturing and that he would probably be out of office by the time the results come out. His term will come to a close at the end of the year.

“I am glad it will happen but he is well aware he will be out of Congress before it is complete,” Monahan wrote. “He makes himself look good before the election.”

Ellison’s call for an ethics committee investigation comes as the state Democratic Party says it has been conducting a six-week inquiry into Monahan’s accusations.

On Monday, Ken Martin, chair of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said he expects his party’s investigation to end soon, well before the November election, when Ellison will face Republican challenger Doug Wardlow. The Associated Press reported that the state’s Democrats are concerned the allegations could harm the party’s chances of holding on to an attorney general’s office they’ve held for more than 40 years.

After the charges surfaced, the DFL hired a third-party attorney, Susan Ellingstad, to investigate. However, some have criticized that choice, saying Ellingstad, who works at the same law firm as the attorney who represents the state party, is not independent. It’s unclear what the consequences of either investigation would be.

Ellison said he has “complied fully” with the DFL investigation and would do the same with the ethics committee.

"These allegations have lingered in the public sphere, and remain unsubstantiated. I welcome an investigation by the House to allow us to move on,” Ellison said in his statement, first reported by BuzzFeed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she supports the committee’s investigation.

“It is appropriate that the House Ethics Committee also conduct an expedited investigation of this matter, as Congressman Ellison has now requested,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It is essential that due process be respected and that all involved are given the opportunity to be heard.”

In recent days, Democrats pushing for a delay in Kavanaugh’s confirmation following high-profile sexual assault allegations against him have faced a volley of questions about their handling of the Ellison case. In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), one of Kavanaugh’s sharpest critics, said she supported an investigation into Ellison’s behavior.

“I have been very clear that I make no excuses for anybody who engages in this kind of behavior,” Hirono said. “And, as far as Keith Ellison, these allegations need to be investigated, and appropriate action taken.”

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told BuzzFeed News this week that they, too, would support an investigation into their fellow liberal lawmaker. Minnesota’s two senators, Amy Klobuchar (D) and Tina Smith (D), agreed on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee echoed the lawmakers Wednesday evening.

“Allowing the House Ethics Committee to investigate these allegations is the right thing to do,” said Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director.

Democrats cautious about judging one of their own amid misconduct allegations

Last week, Monahan also posted to Twitter what she said were medical records from November 2017. One of the documents stated that Monahan told her doctor, referring to Ellison, that “she was in a very stressful environment for years, emotional and physical abuse by a partner with whom she is now separated.”

The allegations against Ellison have garnered increased attention in conservative circles, where the Minnesota Democrat is an oft-invoked counterpoint to Kavanaugh.

On “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did so in response to a question about Republicans siding with men in instances of abuse allegations.

Of Democrats, she said, “They love to fight and champion women until they disagree with them,” citing Ellison as a primary example.

Ellison is also a frequent target of Donald Trump Jr. and other conservative commentators. On Monday, in reference to the allegations against Ellison, Trump Jr. tweeted, “Interesting how quiet the left/media (redundant I know) is on this.”

“Why the double standard?” he wrote.

A recent poll found that voters are split over whether they believe the accusations — about a fifth do, and a fifth don’t, while the rest said they weren’t sure. Ellison led Wardlow by five points, though a key portion of those polled were still undecided.

David Weigel contributed to this report.