State Senator Omar Fateh and his lawyer Kristin Hendrick testify in their first ethics subcommittee hearing on June 8, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

The Minnesota Senate ethics subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to move forward with an investigation into first-term Senator Omar Fateh, and announced plans to subpoena his former Senate aide.

The vote followed an ethics hearing where Omar, a Democrat representing parts of south Minneapolis, and his lawyer, Kristin Hendrick, denied allegations in a complaint seven Senate Republicans filed against him. The complaint accused Omar of “failing to expressly address his involvement in the unauthorized delivery of 2020 primary election absentee ballots and retaining his Senate staffer who reportedly directed the fraudulent election activity.”

It was Omar’s second appearance before the subcommittee, which also questioned him last week. Hendrick repeatedly said Wednesday that Omar was “shocked” to learn of alleged wrongdoing in the campaign.

“He had no indication that something was amiss, potentially, on his campaign,” she said under oath. “He did not direct any sort of criminal act or behavior to happen. He did not condone anything, he did not encourage anything directly or indirectly to happen that was not above board.”

The complaint stems from the recent perjury conviction of Omar’s brother-in-law and former campaign volunteer, Muse Mohamed. A federal jury convicted Muse on May 10 on two counts of lying to a grand jury about his handling of absentee ballots during the August 2020 election. 

An FBI agent testified at Muse’s trial that the investigation into how some absentee ballots were handled in the August 2020 election has lasted a year and involved more than 80 witnesses. Omar was not one of those witnesses, Hendrick said Wednesday, adding that he has not been requested or subpoenaed to testify in the investigation. Muse is the only person who has been charged in the investigation; no one has been charged with voter fraud in the case.

Muse told the grand jury that he picked up ballots from three voters with the intention of returning them to the elections office. Evidence presented to the grand jury contradicted those statements. Two of those voters testified at Muse’s trial that they never met him and never filled out the absentee ballots he told the grand jury about.

According to a transcript of grand jury testimony made available to reporters after the trial, Muse said that he received the list with the three voters from Dawson Kimyon. Kimyon, whom the Senate ethics subcommittee plans to subpoena, was Omar’s Senate legislative assistant and campaign manager until last month.

Kimyon could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. He has previously ignored requests for comment about the case against Muse and his alleged involvement. Omar did not respond to an interview request after Wednesday’s hearing.

In response to a question from Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R–Big Lake), Omar explained why he was troubled by Muse’s conviction.

“I was extremely troubled because we worked really, really hard to run our campaign with the utmost integrity,” Omar told the ethics subcommittee. “I was also horrified, like all of you, when the news came out, when the allegations came out, and when the conviction happened.

“Both because it was part of my campaign, but it was extremely hurtful that it was a family member—someone that I cared about, someone I still care about, and someone that I’ll always care about.”

He reiterated Hendrick’s remarks that he had not directly or indirectly encouraged any improper activity.

Hendrick said Omar acted swiftly after Muse was convicted, which occurred the same day Kimyon’s alleged involvement was first made public in the grand jury transcript read in court.

Omar told the Senate ethics subcommittee Wednesday that on May 11, the day after Muse’s conviction, Senate DFL leadership put Kimyon on leave from his legislative assistant position. Omar said he supported the decision, and that he had also removed Kimyon from his 2022 reelection campaign team that same day. Omar’s term ends on January 3, 2023.

Kimyon has since resigned from the Senate.

Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL–Minneapolis), asked whether Omar had undertaken any internal investigation of his campaign after learning of the allegations against Muse. (The grand jury indicted Muse with perjury last November; Sahan Journal first asked Omar about the charges in January.)

Hendrick stressed that the criminal charges were for perjury, not fraud. The trial transcript did not list specific allegations against Kimyon, she said. Nowhere does the transcript link Omar’s name to any allegations at all, she added.

Champion did not seem convinced.

“If I’m shocked, then my shock leads to action. I do something,” he said. “I believe Senator Fateh wants to be known as a credible and integrity-filled person. And if you have something that’s hanging out there that is casting a shadow over your value system, your work, then I would think that you might want to do something in order to figure out what is right or wrong, so you know what you want to do going forward.”

Hendrick emphasized throughout the hearing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not charged Kimyon or Omar with any crimes.

“Candidly, I think if they had a case that they could make, they would bring it,” she said. “And they have not.”

David Osmek (R–Mound), chair of the ethics subcommittee, conceded that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and that no criminal charges have been filed against anyone else in the FBI investigation.

“I’ll add one word: yet,” he said. “We don’t know what the federal government’s going to do.”

The ethics subcommittee on Wednesday also continued a discussion from last week’s hearing about another complaint against Omar: an allegation of conflict of interest. The complaint raised concerns that Omar had authored a bill, which never passed, to appropriate $500,000 to Somali TV of Minnesota, a YouTube channel that is a popular source of news in the Somali community. The channel aired several videos in support of Omar during the 2020 campaign.

Omar previously told the subcommittee that the videos were paid advertisements he forgot to disclose on his campaign finance report, and did not represent an unpaid endorsement.

After hearing testimony Wednesday, the Senate subcommittee—made up of two Republicans and two Democrats—met in closed session to determine next steps. Because the committee is split evenly along party lines, any decision to move forward with an investigation must have bipartisan, majority support.

The subcommittee reconvened briefly to announce its decision to subpoena Kimyon and Siyad Salah, the president of Somali TV of Minnesota. The four senators voted unanimously to approve the plan and pursue an investigation into both complaints against Omar.

If the subcommittee decides to issue punishment or a reprimand, it issues its recommendations to the Senate Rules Committee to execute. The Rules Committee decides whether to issue punishment, which can include censure, denial of reimbursements, denial of services like secretaries, or stripping a senator’s seniority, among others.

The Senate ethics subcommittee will reconvene July 7, pending the witnesses’ availability.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...