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Minnesota’s Mike Lindell among last remaining election fraud crusaders for Trump

MyPillow founder Mike Lindell is still trying to convince Americans of the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, even after the former president quietly left office and Joe Biden has begun his new administration.

His decision to press an argument that has had no success in court is beginning to take a toll on his business and is raising new doubts about his political future. Major retailers have said they will stop carrying his pillows, some state Republicans have gone silent on his potential gubernatorial candidacy and even Trump seemed to brush off his suggestions to overturn the election.

“Why do you think I would risk everything I have?” said Lindell, speaking soon after fielding warnings that he will be hit by a lawsuit over his claims.

Having attended the Washington rally at which Trump spoke just before the deadly insurrection, Lindell is still repeating many of the same falsehoods that Trump made about foreign countries hacking voting machines to give Biden the win.

“He has directly assaulted the integrity of the election in the United States and by all reports he has been a part of urging people to take action against our government,” said former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.

The DFL has revved up its fundraising operation, particularly after Lindell’s brief meeting with Trump in the closing days of his presidency.

Gov. Tim Walz’s campaign and Minnesota’s DFL Party sent out e-mails seeking donations within hours of Lindell being photographed entering a Jan. 15 White House meeting carrying notes that appeared to suggest “martial law if necessary.”

“It’s safe to say the My Pillow guy is not giving up on advancing Trump’s toxic brand of politics, and we know Minnesota is at the top of his mind,” read an e-mail sent by Walz’s campaign hours later.

Lindell’s concerns about the election integrity are now causing him to rethink pouring his own money into a run for office.

In an interview last week, the Chaska businessman, who has donated at least $360,000 to GOP candidates nationwide since 2016, said his wallet would remain closed until party leaders accept his unfounded claims. And weeks after saying he was “90 to 95%” leaning toward challenging Walz in 2022, now Lindell says he is less sure.

“If you were saying this year was the election, I would say no, knowing what I know now,” he said. “So that’s going to have to wait until we get this fixed. But there’s plenty of time — 2022’s a long way off.”

Attorneys for U.S. Dominion Inc., the target of many of Lindell’s unfounded claims of wrongdoing, have demanded that Lindell retract them and apologize. Facing similar threats of lawsuits, Fox Business and Fox News are airing corrections and clarifications of their own false allegations of election fraud.

Lindell said he welcomes a lawsuit.

Many influential Minnesota Republicans are not willing to discuss Lindell publicly. For his part, Lindell is now also hinting at rejecting a party whose state leader publicly backed him for governor last fall.

“I’ve got problems with both parties, are you kidding me?” Lindell said, citing GOP governors in Arizona and Georgia who refused to join attempts to overturn their presidential election results. “I don’t keep in contact with anybody in the Republican Party.”

Doug Wardlow, Lindell’s general counsel, is also considering again seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Attorney General Keith Ellison, who defeated Wardlow in 2018. Wardlow was not available for comment.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan wrote in a September tweet that the party was “going to make [Lindell] our next governor.

She has since declined to comment on any would-be candidates, saying that party rules prevent her from doing so before someone wins the party endorsement. Carnahan’s previous post backing Lindell for governor inspired state Sen. Mark Koran to launch a campaign to challenge Carnahan as state party leader.

During a 50-minute phone interview last week, Lindell oscillated between agitation and bombast, threatened to hang up and angrily refused to say where he was staying — a departure from past interviews in which he openly described his busy travel schedule.

“I don’t want anybody to know where I’m at,” Lindell said, before offering up that he was not in Washington, D.C., Florida or Minnesota. He added that he won’t likely return to his home state until his quest concluded.

Lindell said his brief meeting with Trump on Jan. 15 was his second White House visit, arranged through an e-mail request. He said the notes that he was photographed carrying were part of a package of materials that an acquaintance who is an attorney prepared for Trump. Lindell declined to name the attorney.

In Lindell’s own telling, Trump and his advisers seemed dismissive of what Lindell contends was evidence of China hacking voting machines. The president only briefly glanced at the papers, Lindell said, and White House attorneys were similarly brief in their review.

“I left with the papers I came with,” Lindell said.

Lindell said he doesn’t have a direct line to the ex-president and that the only time Trump called was before the 2020 election to ask how the campaign was faring in Minnesota. Lindell assured the president that he would carry the state, which Biden ultimately won by 7 percentage points. Lindell now insists that Trump won Minnesota, again presenting no evidence.

Lindell has posted sparingly on Twitter since Jan. 15, the date of his White House visit. Like many posts before it, one of his latest tweets purports to show evidence of foreign actors changing votes and is tagged with a disclaimer that users are blocked from sharing the content “due to a risk of violence.”

Lindell’s baseless theories are not confined to election fraud. He has also lobbied for Food and Drug Administration approval of a botanical extract as a COVID-19 cure. Trump had expressed enthusiasm for the dietary supplement, despite there being no study or proof that it works in combating the deadly virus.

Gina Countryman, a Minnesota Republican strategist, said that Lindell was initially seen as a successful outsider businessman who party faithful hoped could replicate Trump’s success in appealing to nontraditional voters.

“But then he keeps talking and the more he talks, the more people kind of go, ‘hey wait a minute’ — including Trump supporters,” Countryman said. “His aggressive branding and marketing style is only going to work if he has a message to sell, and from what I can see, it’s conspiracy theories and COVID snake oil.”

That is not to say Lindell is without a Minnesota constituency. Becky Strohmeier, the conservative activist behind the Jan. 6 “Storm the Capitol” rally, is a fan.

“I have deep admiration for his bold faith and willingness to speak the truth, especially given the constant criticism he faces because of it,” Strohmeier said in an e-mail. “I look forward to seeing what he brings to Minnesota over the next couple years.”

Lindell turned over much of the daily operations of MyPillow to his son, Darren, last year as he first mulled running for office. Now, the business is weathering the loss of retailers such as Kohl’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond amid Lindell’s election fraud claims. The elder Lindell remains defiant, noting that the Chaska-based business has “been attacked before and we’re always busier when we come out of it.”

He points to goodwill built up from acts like donating millions of surgical face masks last fall and unloading pallets of his signature pillows donated for National Guard troops guarding the State Capitol amid last June’s unrest after the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Lindell made a similar overture this month for the tens of thousands of National Guard troops sent to safeguard the nation’s Capitol in the weeks since conspiracy theories helped spark its siege.

This time, Lindell said, the National Guard, citing logistical challenges, did not want his pillows.

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor

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