Fox News has published what appears to be a thinly sourced, forced partisan narrative against Heidi Heitkamp and her tenure as North Dakota’s Attorney General. Weeks ago, a reader contacted me to talk about a poll they just completed. They described it as a poll to test negative messages on Heitkamp. The poll reportedly hit on this very issue. In other words, either the Cramer campaign or the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has been spending a lot of time massaging their angle on this subject. Today, Fox News bit and hit publish.
The Fox News article is about allegations of abuse in the Wahpeton Indian School. There were also allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred in South Dakota and Minnesota. In the case, the state’s attorney declined to press charges for several reasons including lack of jurisdiction over the alleged sexual assaults which occurred outside of North Dakota, lack of evidence and more.
According to North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) 54-12-04, the North Dakota Attorney General can only prosecute a crime if asked by the State District Court Judge or the county attorney. NDCC 11-16-01 says county attorneys are the ones who prosecute crimes in their county. In addition, stated on the Attorney General’s website, “county state’s attorneys have jurisdiction over prosecution of criminal offenses. The Attorney General’s office does not have authority over the county state’s attorneys.” In other words, Attorney General Heitkamp did not have legal authority under North Dakota law to press charges in the case.
The story seems to lack factual basis and relies heavily on a source described as “a trial attorney and former U.S. Department of Justice official.” Why wouldn’t Fox simply name this source? Would someone need the cover of anonymity in this particular story? There is speculation the source could be former U.S. Attorney in North Dakota and former Republican Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley who is seeking to become U.S. Attorney again. It would make sense why he wouldn’t want to be a named source. It is unclear if that speculation holds up.
The other source used in the article is Josh Helton. Helton is described in the story as simply “a Washington attorney with state criminal experience.” He is also a Senior Advisor to the NRSC actively working to elect Republicans in states like North Dakota. Did the NRSC pay for the negative message testing poll and massage this story for the past several weeks?
This article and events leading up to its publication stink of a partisan smear. The timing just weeks before a tightly contested election further calls it into question. The facts simply don’t align with their angle. Try desperately as they might, they will have a tough time convincing people Heitkamp hasn’t fought hard for Native Americans.