Deceased North Dakota AG’s emails found, released

Thousands of emails of North Dakota’s late attorney general have been released by his successor — long-sought records mired in controversy and previously thought gone forever.Attorney General Drew Wrigley released about 2,000 emails with redactions on Wednesday. Another 6,000 emails and untold text messages remain to be reviewed and released, he said.The late Wayne Stenehjem’s emails were presumed lost forever, deleted at the direction of his executive assistant, Liz Brocker, days after Stenehjem died in January 2022. The deleted emails and a building cost overrun of over $1 million incurred under Stenehjem — both disclosed by Wrigley — shocked state lawmakers and government watchdogs.CASE OVER DELETION OF DECEASED NORTH DAKOTA AG’S EMAILS WILL NOT BE PROSECUTEDNow the emails are part of an investigation into an ex-lawmaker.The emails appear fairly routine, encompassing staff messages and office meetings, and cover much of 2021 to 2022.Also, Stenehjem apparently conducted state business on a private email account, which is lawful but “does not defeat open records provisions,” Wrigley said Thursday.Wrigley’s office recently recovered the emails. They were preserved in a backup of Stenehjem’s personal cellphone, extracted soon after his death and found as investigators prepared for the trial of former state Sen. Ray Holmberg, a Republican.Holmberg, 80, of Grand Forks, is charged with traveling to Europe with the intent of paying for sex with a minor and with receiving images depicting child sexual abuse, according to a federal indictment unsealed last fall. He has pleaded not guilty. A trial is set for September.Holmberg and Stenehjem were friends and served for decades in the Legislature together. Holmberg resigned in early 2022.Wrigley has said Stenehjem did not recuse himself from the Holmberg case, and he was viewed as a witness and was questioned at one point. Stenehjem wasn’t accused of any crime in connection with Holmberg.Media sought Stenehjem’s emails in mid-2022, soon after Wrigley disclosed the cost overrun. Lawmakers raised concerns about trust and how the building project was handled. The project was for consolidating divisions of the attorney general’s office in one location in Bismarck.Reporters’ records requests led to the discovery of Stenehjem’s email account being deleted, as well as that of his deputy, Troy Seibel, after he resigned.Brocker resigned around the time reporters found out about the deletions done at her direction. In February, a special prosecutor declined to press charges in connection with the deleted emails.The emails are being reviewed in conjunction with records requests, the Holmberg case and the cost overrun, Wrigley said.
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