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WASHINGTON - The Iowa campaign manager for Michele Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign has testified in a sworn affidavit that the Minnesota Republican acknowledged to another staffer last year that she knew of the alleged theft of a home school organization's e-mail list by her campaign's state chair.
The affidavit by Iowa political consultant Eric Woolson contradicts official accounts given by Bachmann's campaign over the past year that suggested the list was taken inadvertently and mistakenly used in fundraising.
The alleged theft occurred in November 2011, two months before the Iowa caucuses that ended Bachmann's campaign. Woolson has not accused Bachmann of knowing about the alleged theft in advance. But his statement provides the most detailed, behind-the-scenes account yet of how the campaign dealt with a legal and political crisis that has dogged Bachmann ever since.
Woolson, who worked for both the Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty presidential campaigns, supports the accounts given by two other ex-Bachmann staffers, including Barb Heki, an Iowa grandmother who claims in a lawsuit that the contact list was stolen from her personal computer in her private office at Bachmann's Urbandale headquarters.
Jeff Goodman, an Iowa attorney representing the Bachmann campaign, said Monday his clients "vigorously deny the substantive allegations and claims against them."
Bachmann's former religious outreach director, nationally known evangelist Peter Waldron, filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint last month alleging financial and ethical improprieties in the Bachmann campaign.
Waldron, in an interview Monday, said that after "much prayer" he took the information about the alleged theft to Bachmann on Dec. 18, 2011 -- two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. It was not until the day after the Jan. 3, 2012, caucuses, when Bachmann dropped out of the race, that she reportedly told Heki about how the list had been taken from her computer.
"I was absolutely shocked," Heki said in an interview that corroborated Woolson's affidavit. "I had racked my brain trying to figure out how that list got out. I trusted everybody implicitly."
The incident is now the subject of an Urbandale police investigation centering on Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who chaired Bachmann's Iowa campaign. Sorenson denied any wrongdoing Monday.
A state court judge in Iowa recently gave a green light for the Heki lawsuit to go forward, meaning Bachmann could, at some point, be called in to provide a deposition. Bachmann has not been accused of any crime in the matter.
Sorenson, however, is also the target of an ethics complaint in the Iowa Senate filed by Waldron, who cited the recently leaked Woolson affidavit.
'We took it'
The affidavit, first reported by the Iowa Republican and obtained by the Star Tribune, points the finger directly at Sorenson, a charismatic Tea Party figure who later defected to the Ron Paul campaign.
"We took it," Woolson says Sorenson told him when Woolson inquired about the e-mail list. The campaign had just used the list in a fundraising appeal, and was starting to get complaints from members of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE), a nonprofit on whose board Heki and her husband served. Sorenson also allegedly told Woolson that he posted guards to avoid detection: "We stood watch," he allegedly told Woolson.
In her suit, Heki alleged that the campaign's use of the list in two fundraising e-mails led to her dismissal from the NICHE board. Bachmann's campaign, which later paid the group a $2,000 "rental" fee, disputes all of Heki's claims.
NICHE President Justin LaVan declined comment Monday, citing the ongoing litigation. But in a November 2011 statement issued shortly after the flap came to light, LaVan sent a message to the group's members saying the Bachmann campaign had assured him their use of the list was "inadvertent."
That has remained the campaign's position throughout the past year as Bachmann turned her focus back to Minnesota to defend her seat in Congress.
'She destroyed me'
Woolson's affidavit, given as part of the Heki lawsuit, now calls the campaign's version into question. His statement, given last September, said he objected to the use of the word "accidentally" in a draft press release about the incident.
He also recounted a staff luncheon the day after the Iowa caucuses at which he said he overheard Bachmann and Heki discuss the list.
"Barb approached me and said Michele Bachmann told her Kent Sorenson had taken the NICHE list and asked me if it was true," Woolson said. "I nodded yes."
Reached for comment Monday, Woolson confirmed the authenticity of the affidavit, but emphasized that his memory of the encounter was hazy and that he never discussed the list with Bachmann. Instead, his statement says he took the matter up with Guy Short, the campaign's national political director, and with Keith Nahigian, the national campaign manager. Woolson's affidavit also says he discussed the matter with Bill McGinley, a top GOP attorney in Washington identified by Woolson as the campaign's "corporate lawyer."
Heki, the mother of four grown children who were home schooled, contends the Bachmann campaign's silence cost her her standing in the NICHE organization. "It wasn't just a little board I served on," she said. "It was my life. ... I'm deeply disappointed in Michele Bachmann. She didn't just let me down. She destroyed me."
Woolson has since been dismissed as a defendant in the Heki suit, which targets Bachmann and the rest of her top-echelon advisers.
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.