GOP Chair pushes back against calls for resignation after donor arrested

Minnesota GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan is fighting back as several Minnesota lawmakers call on her to step down after a close friend and donor was indicted and arrested on underage sex trafficking charges.

Carnahan released a statement Sunday saying that she does not plan to resign and wrote that it is "disappointing that leaders in our party are now using guilt by association to demand my resignation. The party and its leaders cannot be held responsible for the actions of donors and unofficial persons (such as campaign managers) associated with Republican candidates, and we cannot be expected to know more than law enforcement when heinous charges such as this are brought to light. "

Anton "Tony" Lazzaro, 30, faces five counts of sex trafficking of a minor, a count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, and another count of attempted sex trafficking, along with three counts of obstruction, according to an unsealed indictment.

A 19-year-old Minnesota woman was also arrested on the same charges and is reportedly linked to Lazzaro.

On Saturday, Carnahan released a statement saying, "the arrest and charges involving Ms. Gisela Castro Medina, in conjunction with Thursday's arrest and sex trafficking charges of Mr. Anton Lazzaro are heinous and disturbing. Conviction of these charges warrants punishment to the fullest extent of the law and we fully anticipate justice will be served."

Calls for resignation

Saturday afternoon, Rep. Jeremy Munson released a statement on behalf of the four-member New House GOP caucus calling for Carnahan's resignation over the Lazzaro arrest. The statement also calls into question non-disclosure agreements between members of the party board and the Minnesota GOP. 

"The conflicts of interest and the numerous deeply concerning questions being brought to light need to be answered and resolved now. Investigations and audits do not mean the accusations are true," the statement said. "Investigating, disclosing, and addressing accusations is a duty of the board and our leadership and how we restore trust."

The caucus is calling for the NDAs to be nullified. In another statement, GOP executive committee member Bobby Benson worried that the NDAs may be preventing some people from speaking up about the Lazzaro arrest.

"I've been troubled by the recent reports of the frequency at which MNGOP issues and uses NDAs with past and present employees," wrote Benson.

Several other lawmakers have since called for her resignation, including State Senator Julia Coleman, State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, State Rep. Cal Bahr, State Rep. Tim Miller, and Republican Scott Jensen, who is running for governor.

Republican National Committeewoman and Executive Committee member Barb Sutter is also calling for Carnahan's resignation.

The 15-member state Executive Committee is set to meet at 9 p.m. Sunday to discuss the next steps.

Motions being brought at GOP meeting

Republican leaders approved two motions Sunday’s meeting. One orders an audit of the party’s finances so they can identify any donations from Lazzaro. The other waives any non-disclosure agreements issued by the Minnesota GOP that may prevent people within the party from speaking out on the Lazzaro situation and Carnahan.

The non-disclosure acts were called into question on Saturday in statements from Republican Executive Committee member Bobby Benson and, separately, the New House Republicans caucus.

In the caucus statement, lawmakers said the NDA allowed Carnahan to prevent members from talking about anything she deems inappropriate.

Sexual harassment claims

Alongside other troubles, in a statement on Sunday, the Minnesota College Republicans claimed a former state party employee sexually harassed several young women including a member of the college group.

In the statement, the organization accused chairwoman Carnahan of being aware of the incident and not taking action.

Responding to that allegation Sunday night, a party spokesperson denied the claim saying Carnahan was unaware of the harassment allegations until this past April -- after the dispute had been resolved.