|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The FBI's files on Paul and Sheila Wellstone, many of which are being made public for the first time, shed new light on the extent of the relationship between the FBI and the political activist who would go on to become a U.S. senator from Minnesota.
Some of the information uncovered in the 219 pages was new to one of his closest confidantes, former Wellstone campaign manager and state director Jeff Blodgett.
The files show that although the FBI initially took interest in Wellstone as part of the broader surveillance of the American left, the agency later served as his protector, investigating death threats the freshman senator received for his views on the first Gulf War, and, in the end, helping sift through the wreckage of the fatal plane crash that killed Wellstone and seven others eight years ago.
Wellstone's surviving sons declined to comment on the documents, which were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by MPR News.
The U.S. Department of Justice released 88 of the 125 pages in Sen. Wellstone's FBI file, and 131 of the 227 pages in his wife's file. All of the documents included in Sheila Wellstone's file are related to the plane crash that killed the couple and their daughter Marcia.
The FBI did not include 76 pages related to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigated the crash. A request for those records is pending.
Within the first two weeks of his term, Wellstone began receiving death threats for his views on the war. The FBI files provide a detailed description of the angry and sometimes violent calls the Democratic senator received. One man called Wellstone's office and threatened to "throttle" him. A caller from Faribault said, "If I had a gun, I'd come after you, you SOB." Another caller said that if his son dies during his military service in the Persian Gulf, "then Wellstone will die."
"We were shocked and surprised by these kinds of calls," Blodgett said in an interview last week. "We certainly didn't expect that death threats would be part of the job of being a U.S. senator or taking death threats would be part of the job of Senate staff."
"There were threats on my life," Wellstone wrote. "I wished I had never been elected."
The FBI files indicate that the agency took the threats seriously. Investigators tried to track down the threatening callers and kept detailed information about their efforts.
The documents show that an FBI agent traveled to "Marine," (sic) Minn. on January 29 to meet with the man who threatened to "throttle" Wellstone. The man, whose name has been redacted from the documents, admitted that he called the office and said that he wanted to wring Wellstone's neck and throttle him.
The man told the FBI agent that the receptionist was "snotty" and hung up on him. He said he called back and spoke to a "polite receptionist." He told her, "Tell Senator Wellstone that Saddam Hussein appreciates what he's doing."
Federal prosecutors declined to file charges against the caller, and the FBI was unable to locate the other callers. Wellstone continued to receive threats, including a call from a man in February 1995 who said, "I'm watching you senator and I'm going to kill you within the week." Wellstone was assigned a protective detail for the week of the threat.
The FBI took note of the bushy-haired college professor when he was arrested on May 7, 1970 at a protest against the Vietnam War at the Federal Office Building in downtown Minneapolis. Wellstone and 87 others were arrested for disturbing and obstructing access to a federal building.
Most of the names in the 1970 documents have been redacted, making it impossible to separate Wellstone out from the other defendants. One defendant pled guilty, another had the charges dismissed, and another was acquitted. The documents state that the rest of the defendants were found guilty during a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis and received fines of either $35 or five days in jail.
Neither the FBI files nor available court records indicate how Wellstone's case was resolved.
In a document sent to FBI headquarters, the head of the FBI's Minneapolis office said the case warranted "considerable investigation." The document notes that U.S. Attorney Robert Renner "could foresee the potential blockage of federal buildings throughout the country" if the anti-war protesters were acquitted.
The FBI obtained a copy of Wellstone's fingerprint card from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and sent it to FBI headquarters to keep on file. A related FBI document notes that Paul David Wellstone, age 25, weighed 150 pounds, stood 5'6," and had brown hair and brown eyes.
O'Hara, the former head of the FBI's Minneapolis office, said that the FBI used to routinely investigate protests that occurred on federal property.
"There were sit-ins. There were break-ins. There was blood spilled over Selective Service files," he said. "There were a number of minor federal crimes committed. And back then, there maybe wasn't the patience that there might be now."
O'Hara joined the FBI as a special agent in 1963, but did not work in Minnesota until he was transferred to the Minneapolis office in 1991. He said he was not familiar with the arrests.