Secret recordings made by fired Minnesota Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb two years ago reveal bitter divisions between his GOP bosses over how they responded to the extramarital affair Brodkorb had with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
Although Sen. Michelle Fischbach now defends Brodkorb’s dismissal, the then-Senate president is heard on the tape telling Brodkorb that her fellow GOP senators who orchestrated his firing, “messed this up every possible way they can … I am just flabbergasted that anybody can make decisions so poorly.”
The 2011 recordings made by Brodkorb without Fischbach’s knowledge are part of the high-profile lawsuit he filed after revelations of his romantic relationship with Koch rocked the Capitol, leading to her resignation as majority leader and his firing. The lawsuit claims he was improperly fired, in part because previous affairs involving female staffers and male politicians did not result in any dismissals. The suit, scheduled for trial next summer, has already cost state taxpayers more than $200,000 in legal fees.
The profanity-laced conversations between Brodkorb and Fischbach were obtained by the Star Tribune from a source who requested anonymity and who is not directly part of the lawsuit.
Brodkorb and Fischbach, in their conversationon the tape, alluded to similar romantic relationships in the Capitol where the employee was not fired. “I think there has been an incredible double standard here,” Fischbach said in the recording.
Koch, who resigned her leadership position after other senators confronted her about the affair, told the Star Tribune last week that she wishes Fischbach had spoken out at the time about her displeasure over the way events unfolded.
“There’s a fair amount on there that Senator Fischbach says that I agree with,” Koch said of the tapes. “In the position she held, she had an obligation to speak up. I don’t recall her ever saying any of this publicly.”
Fischbach, who declined to be interviewed about the tapes, said in a statement that she was only trying to console someone she considered a friend.
“My comments to Michael Brodkorb were made as a friend trying to be supportive of someone in a difficult situation, who was losing his job and possibly losing his family,” the Paynesville Republican said in a statement. “I was not speaking on behalf of the Senate, but only talking to someone who I then thought of as a friend in need of emotional support and who I didn’t think would secretly record the call.”
Minnesota law only requires that one party to a call be aware that it is being recorded.
Fischbach now says she believes her colleagues had every right to fire Brodkorb as they did. “I now understand that staff members can be lawfully discharged under such circumstances,” she said in the statement.
Brodkorb’s call to Fischbach took place just days after Koch, R-Buffalo, resigned her leadership position after admitting that she and Brodkorb had an extramarital affair. Brodkorb was the GOP Senate Caucus spokesman and reported to Koch. Once Koch had stepped down, then-Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman confronted Brodkorb at a local restaurant and fired him on the spot.
The recorded conversation is part of other evidence submitted in the case that is not public. In response to questions from the Star Tribune, Brodkorb last week released a statement through his attorney, Greg Walsh: “We believe the statements from then-Senate President Michelle Fischbach, which include her stating that Mr. Brodkorb was ‘wrongfully terminated’ supports, as do other statements and documents, Mr. Brodkorb’s legal claim that he was wrongly terminated from the Minnesota Senate.”
Fischbach said during the recorded conversation that she believed Brodkorb and Koch were treated differently because of their gender, and that Senate colleagues never would have confronted a male senator about an affair the way they did Koch. When Koch was leaving a meeting at the Minneapolis Club in mid-December 2011, a group of senators — including her hand-picked deputy majority leader, Sen. Geoff Michel — told Koch they needed to speak to her privately. Once behind closed doors, Koch said her colleagues confronted her about the affair, threatening to disclose details unless she resigned from leadership. Key senators in that meeting have denied Koch’s account.
Koch elected to step down from leadership, citing personal reasons. Within 24 hours, the group of senators, led by Michel, disclosed Koch’s affair to the public. Koch quietly served out her term and did not seek re-election.
Fischbach went on to say she partly blamed brazen political ambition for the way senators confronted Koch and fired Brodkorb. She noted that it was known that Michel and David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, two of the senators who pressed Koch about the affair in the secret meeting, wanted the leadership job.
“That really pisses me off,” Fischbach said in the recording. Michel, who did not seek re-election, could not be reached for comment. Hann, now the Senate minority leader, said Thursday that he knew of the recording but has not listened to it. “I don’t feel any need to comment at this time,” said Hann, who is considering a gubernatorial bid.
When the 2010 elections gave Republicans control of the Senate, they turned to Brodkorb, a longtime GOP operative feared widely for his relentless research of opponents, to be their chief spokesman. Brodkorb became a force at the Capitol. Brash and uncompromising, he quickly gained a reputation for combativeness not just with the media, but with fellow staffers and even elected leaders.
Once Koch was no longer able to offer protection, Brodkorb said, the other senators saw an opportunity to “maximize the pain” and ultimately take him out.
“They wanted to put a [expletive] bullet in my head,” Brodkorb said in the recording.
“They are so [expletive] righteous,” Fischbach replied.
At the time of the call to Fischbach, Brodkorb appeared to still be in shock from the drama and his high-profile termination. Several times, he reiterated that he was fired on his day off, in a public restaurant where he had met a colleague for lunch.
Fischbach can be heard on the recording asking Brodkorb how he was holding up and expressing concern for his mental state.
Brodkorb said he had been to a doctor. “I am living minute to minute,” he told her.
Fischbach said she was unaware of the Senate leaders’ plan to fire Brodkorb, and had been out of town as parts of the drama unfolded.
She grew furious as the two discussed the way Senate GOP leaders held a news conference about the affair and then proceeded to do numerous media interviews.
“They are ginning this up. … They should have just shut their mouths,” she said.
Fischbach expressed concern that the unfolding saga would blow a giant hole in their chances of holding control of the Senate, which they eventually lost.
“I am just having a major problem with why these guys think this is good for the caucus,” Fischbach said during the conversation. “Why is this good to drag all this [expletive] through the public eye?”
Brodkorb told Fischbach that they should have let Koch resign her leader post for family reasons, with no mention of the affair. Brodkorb said he was already actively looking for another job.
“They certainly didn’t have to act on me,” he said.
“No,” Fischbach said. “Just leave it be. Let it die out.”
“Plus they are creating legal problems now,” Brodkorb said.
Fischbach sighed, “Yeah.”
Toward the end of the roughly 30-minute conversation, Brodkorb said he wanted his job back and pressed Fishbach to agree with him.
Fischbach grew reserved. She asked Brodkorb to never mention that they had discussed his firing.
“I am not asking you to lie, but I’d ask you not indicate to anybody that you and I have talked,” she said.
“I won’t,” Brodkorb said.
“I don’t have full knowledge, so to get me in the middle of it would be a problem,” Fischbach said.
Brodkorb said he understood, but offered a warning.
“This is going to get tough, I am just going to let you know,” he said. “There is a right way to remedy this, but this is going to get tough.”
On Wednesday, members of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, now controlled by Democrats, will consider the latest legal bills from the Brodkorb lawsuit.