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FBI Documents on Senator Paul Wellstone Raise Questions about His Death 8 Years Ago

StoryOctober 29, 2010
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Minnesota Public Radio has obtained the FBI record of the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in a plane crash eight years ago this week. The records show the FBI first tracked Wellstone in 1970 after he was arrested at an anti-Vietnam War protest. The records might also raise new questions about the plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife, his daughter and three staffers. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was caused by pilot error, but the FBI documents reveal for the first time that specific criminal leads were pursued by investigators. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re ending right now on an entirely different note. We’re going to Minnesota.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right. Well, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone died eight years ago this week. He died in a plane crash eleven days before a vote in what had been a tight Senate race. Minnesota Public Radio has just obtained the FBI record of the late senator and found that the FBI had been tracking Wellstone for nearly thirty years, starting in the 1970s after he was arrested in an anti-Vietnam War protest. The records might also raise new questions about the plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife, his daughter and three staffers.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Madeleine Baran, who obtained the FBI files on the late Paul Wellstone through a Freedom of Information Act request.

We only have a minute to go, but if you could just summarize, Madeleine, what it is you found in these documents.

MADELEINE BARAN: Sure. The documents start in 1970, when Wellstone is arrested for a protest against the Vietnam War in Minneapolis. The FBI gets a copy of his fingerprints and puts them into their files, and then they jump to when he received death threats after his vote against the Gulf War resolution right after he takes office in '91. His state director agrees to have the senator's phone tapped. And then they end with the investigation into the fatal crash in 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what they found in this fatal plane crash.

MADELEINE BARAN: Well, what’s interesting is that the FBI did pursue some criminal leads in the first two days. So, for example, they received a call from someone in Jacksonville, Florida, who claimed that mobsters involved with the trucking industry had disconnected the plane’s de-icers. The office received a threatening postcard the day before. Another person said that he heard gunshots in the area right before the crash. So, they investigated all of these leads. And so, it was interesting to me that they did take them seriously, and they range even from someone saying that an Aryan group might have been involved. So, yeah, and then after two days they passed it along to the National Transportation Safety Board.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in the files on this many years of tracking him, anything especially unusual of the surveillance of him that you found?

MADELEINE BARAN: No. He gets in, you know, right at the tail end of Hoover’s tenure at the FBI, so really that 1970 entry is the only one from his activism as a young college professor. It was interesting that, you know, such a small-scale protest would make its way into the FBI’s file.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Madeleine Baran, last fifteen seconds, what you were most surprised by and what you think is the most important headline out of these documents that you received under FOIA request?

MADELEINE BARAN: Just the risk that Wellstone took by taking the stance against the Gulf War. He’s very scared by these threats he received. And, you know, that sometimes people take on that risk if they have an unpopular view.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Madeleine Baran —


AMY GOODMAN: — a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio.

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