ST. PAUL (AP) -- An e-mail account investigators believe was used to send negative messages about DFL candidate Mike Ciresi was accessed several times via a telephone line registered to a top aide of U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, a search warrant released Thursday shows.
But the warrant fails to provide a definitive link between the e-mails and Christine Gunhus. On the dates some of the e-mails were sent, the warrant states, the same account was accessed at a Kinko's copy store.
The warrant was executed after a judge found probable cause that property owned by Gunhus was used to commit a crime. An inventory of the items taken showed authorities seized two computers and nine diskettes.
Grams has denied involvement by himself or members of his campaign in the e-mails, which accused Ciresi of being too moderate. They were sent to DFL leaders and activists right before the party's state convention, at which the party was to endorse a Senate candidate.
The Grams campaign issued a brief statement Thursday night that did not address the substance of what the search warrant said, but repeated Grams' charge that Ciresi's complaint was politically motivated.
Gunhus' private attorney, Doug Kelley, declined to give a detailed response.
"I have not had an opportunity to read the search warrant, I have only had it verbally described to me, and so therefore I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the evidence in it," Kelley said by telephone from Colorado.
"Let me just say, though, that it doesn't change my position in this case, and that is I am confident when the dust settles my client will be found to have done nothing wrong," Kelley said.
But Ciresi's campaign manager, Bob Decheine, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis the evidence is mounting against Gunhus and Grams. And he said that if investigators develop additional evidence now that they have her computers, he would expect to see criminal charges filed.
"This brings these e-mails into Chris Gunhus' home," Decheine told the newspaper. "Maybe Senator Grams has been telling the truth that it was not done out of his campaign office, but it appears it was done out of Chris Gunhus' house."
Bryan Lindberg, an assistant Anoka County attorney, said no decision had been made about criminal charges against Gunhus, Grams' former chief of staff and a current campaign adviser. Lindberg would not discuss the significance of the finding.
"The investigation is still continuing," Lindberg said, "including analysis of the equipment taken from the residence. Those are being analyzed as we speak."
Grams' campaign said it had not been contacted by the county attorney's office about the investigation.
"We are content to let him do his job and we believe there is no need to inject any more politics into this than Mike Ciresi has already," the statement said.
The investigation centers around whether the e-mails violated laws that require campaign literature to be labeled with its source. Ciresi requested the investigation, claiming electronic footprints in the e-mails pointed to three members of the Grams campaign.
Computer experts have cautioned that it would have been easy for a third party to make the documents look like they came from the Grams' campaign.
But Robert Stephens, a computer expert for the Minneapolis-based Geek Squad, said Thursday he thinks it would be tough for a third party to link the e-mails to a specific phone number.
"Faking an e-mail is much easier than faking a phone number," Stephens said. "I would find that incredibly difficult because it is all in the central computers. You would have to find a way to compromise the phone company's computers."
In their warrant, investigators said the Hotmail account they believe was used to transmit the e-mails was accessed through a phone line registered to Chris Erikstrup, a name Gunhus dropped after divorcing in 1994.
Investigators had asked the Anoka judge to authorize a nighttime search to prevent the "loss, destruction or removal of the objects of the search ... because an unannounced entry is necessary." The judge rejected that request and the warrant was carried out at 7:06 a.m. Aug. 30.
The e-mails alleged that Ciresi, though he has emphasized his legal successes in exposing corporate wrongdoing, works for a law firm that has defended many corporate wrongdoers. The e-mails, purportedly from a concerned DFLer named Katie Stevens, also said Ciresi hadn't donated enough money to DFL causes.
Katie Stevens apparently doesn't exist.
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