Two former federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was irresponsible in remarks he made last week about U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken's corporate troubles, and they urged Freeman to retract the comments.

In a letter released Tuesday afternoon, former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Kelley, both in private practice now in the Twin Cities, wrote Freeman that he should not have commented on Franken's California tax situation because not enough was yet known to determine what happened.

Freeman responded that he was "disappointed" that Heffelfinger and Kelley hadn't first called him to discuss their concerns, in light of their good personal and professional relationship.

"Since I received this communication after it was released [to the media]," Freeman said, "I can only assume their comments arise from their political support for Norm Coleman, and I will consider their comments in that light."

Franken faces more than $4,700 in payments and penalties for failing to file corporate tax returns in California for several years. The candidate said his personal entertainment firm didn't pay the taxes because he hadn't done business in the state during that time.

But Republican Party officials last week compiled a list of the author and comedian's appearances in California from 2003 to 2006 that suggested he had in fact worked there.

"We are not offering an opinion that Al Franken violated California law," the letter from Heffelfinger and Kelley said. "There are simply not enough facts on the record to offer an informed opinion. We believe it was irresponsible for you to do so."

In an interview published Saturday, Freeman was asked whether he thought that stories about Franken's business troubles would have a significant impact on his Senate campaign. Freeman, who had supported Mike Ciresi before he dropped out of the race, said that he was now backing Franken.

Freeman said in the story that he thought voters were tired of such distractions from the real issues.

"It appears to me that this is some carelessness in his personal business," Freeman said of Franken. "Nothing criminal, nothing malicious, nothing nasty. I'm guessing most people have something [similar] in their life, where they forgot to pay their property taxes or workers' comp."

Freeman said Tuesday that when asked for political comments in the future, he will make it clear that he is offering them as a private individual and not in his professional capacity as county attorney.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455