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WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has settled a lawsuit alleging that senior members of her 2012 presidential campaign stole a proprietary e-mail list of home-school families from the personal computer of an Iowa campaign staffer.
Legal papers dismissing the case were filed Friday in Des Moines by attorneys representing Barb Heki, the Iowa woman who sued the campaign a year ago, alleging trespass and misappropriation of the list. The campaign later used it to enlist support from a religious home-schooling network before the Republican caucuses.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The case, which remains under investigation by Des Moines police, ignited internal divisions within the campaign that led to broader allegations of financial and ethical impropriety that now are being investigated by the FBI, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Earlier this week, the U.S. Justice Department sent an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor to the Twin Cities to meet with former Bachmann congressional chief of staff Andy Parrish, who also worked on her presidential campaign in Iowa.
Parrish filed an affidavit earlier this year revealing undisclosed campaign payments to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who also was blamed by Heki for taking the disputed e-mail list in the campaign’s Urbandale, Iowa, headquarters.
Lawyers for Bachmann and the campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Bachmann’s congressional office also did not respond. The campaign has released no information about any potential payments in the settlement or where the funds would come from.
A trial in the case had been scheduled for next year. Had it gone to trial, Bachmann likely would have had to testify about what she knew under oath, either in court or in pretrial depositions.
The Minnesota Republican announced last month that she will not seek a fifth term in Congress next year, though she said her decision was not linked to the legal problems lingering from her short-lived presidential campaign.
Heki, the campaign’s former home-school coalition director, said she could not discuss the settlement. She referred questions to her attorney, Jeffrey Wright, who confirmed only that “the case has been resolved.”
Heki also is a witness in a congressional ethics probe of Bachmann’s 2011 book tour, which allegedly used campaign and congressional staffers at promotional events for her political autobiography, “Core of Conviction.”
The out-of-court settlement comes nearly two months after Bachmann, facing a cascade of state and federal probes, traveled to Des Moines to take part in settlement negotiations with Heki.
The Bachmann campaign previously has said the home-school list was taken and used by mistake. Former Bachmann staffer Christopher Dorr, a political aide to Sorenson, filed an affidavit with the Iowa Senate saying he might have obtained the list by accident while procuring data from computers he thought belonged to the campaign.
Dorr’s account contradicted an earlier affidavit from former Bachmann campaign manager Eric Woolson, who said Sorenson told him “we took” the list and that those involved “stood watch” while Heki was out of the office.
Campaign officials eventually negotiated a $2,000 payment to rent the list from the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, the group that owned the list in Heki’s possession. In a claim for libel and slander as part of her suit, Heki alleged that she was blamed for the misuse of the list and removed from the group’s board of directors.
The campaign’s version of events was disputed strongly by Heki, Woolson and at least two other former staffers, including Florida minister Peter Waldron, who said he personally took his concerns about Sorenson’s role in the alleged theft to Bachmann and other top campaign officials.
Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer, said the settlement contains no admissions of wrongdoing from him.
Waldron said that he is “grateful to the Lord as well as happy for Mrs. Heki and Rep. Bachmann that the lawsuit is resolved.”
The settlement does not resolve all the legal problems stemming from Bachmann’s presidential campaign. The FEC still has before it a complaint brought by Waldron alleging federal campaign finance violations in the payments to Sorenson and Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short, who allegedly was paid for campaign work using funds from MichelePAC, Bachmann’s independent political organization. According to sources familiar with the FBI probe, agents also are exploring potential criminal violations in those allegations, among other matters.
Short also was listed as a defendant in the Heki suit, along with fundraiser Rebecca Donatelli, national campaign manager Keith Nahigian, and strategist Brett O’Donnell.
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