MN Sen. Nicole Mitchell's refuses to testify at ethics hearing

Minnesota state Senator Nicole Mitchell refused to answer questions during an ethics hearing on her arrest on burglary charges last month, invoking her 5th Amendment rights.

State Sen. Mitchell (DFL-Woodbury) was the center of the Senate’s Ethical Conduct Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, as members considered whether the lawmaker adhered to the highest standards of ethical conduct required of a state senator.

She is accused of breaking into her stepmother's home in Detroit Lakes, dressed all in all-black, in the middle of the night. According to the criminal complaint, Mitchell admitted to police she knew she did "something bad" and said she had come to get some of her late father's possessions.

In a Facebook post, Mitchell claimed she had gone to the Detroit Lakes home to check on a family member, adding the incident was a misunderstanding. However, her statement doesn't seem to line up with the narrative of events in the criminal complaint.

Mitchell has already been relieved of her committee assignments and removed from caucus meetings.

Democrats have previously argued to allow for due process before taking action. At Tuesday's hearing, Republicans argued lawmakers know enough about the alleged crimes, including Mitchell's own admissions, to act now.

Democrats have a lot to lose if Mitchell were to be expelled. In the Senate, the DFL holds a one-seat majority. The DFL would lose their majority if Mitchell were to be removed or resign. Even since her arrest, Mitchell has been the deciding vote for some Senate bills.

In Tuesday's hearing, Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis), who chaired the meeting, argued Senate rules allow for due process in the criminal court system before lawmakers are forced to act.

At the hearing, Mitchell appeared in front of the ethics committee but let her attorney speak on her behalf. Her attorney, Bruce Ringstrom Jr., said Mitchell would invoke the 5th Amendment – her right not to protect herself from self-incrimination – and not take questions until the case is complete, under advisement by her attorney.

"The proof that was needed, is the same kind of proof, the same kind of evidence that will be used in any criminal trial. And so the claims that were made about a redacted transcript or a statement from an attorney… those things get determined by a neutral fact finder – a jury or a judge - none of that happened here today," said Ringstrom.

Ringstrom argued that the hearing was premature, as the criminal case against Mitchell was still active. Meanwhile, Republicans argued that Mitchell’s behavior was in violation of Senate standards.

"This committee has the opportunity to prove that elected leaders are capable of holding each other accountable to their oaths of office to serve the public," said Sen. Karin Housley. "We are not asking you to serve as the court of law. We’re asking you to uphold the integrity of this institution and regain the public trust."

Despite that, Republicans charged on, asking questions of Mitchell and her attorney. Ringstrom mostly responded by re-affirming that Senator Mitchell was invoking her 5th Amendment right.

Experts didn't expect much to come of the ethics review, since the committee consists of two Democrats and two Republicans, making any severe action unlikely.

Members ultimately agreed to reconvene on June 12, after Mitchell appeared in court – but agreed to move up that date if there are substantive developments.

Mitchell’s attorney told FOX 9 she will continue to plead the fifth in the next hearing, as the criminal case will still be pending.