The FBI’s file on the late Sen. Paul Wellstone — the progressive anti-war senator from Minnesota who was killed in a plane crash in 2002 — shows that the FBI tracked the progress of his arrest after an anti-Vietnam War protest in 1970, long before he became a senator. The FBI also investigated death threats made against Wellstone after he took office, and followed potential criminal leads into the plane crash that killed him.
Minnesota Public Radio obtained parts of Wellstone’s file through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them online today. Of note:
- The FBI followed the arrest of Wellstone and 87 other protesters after an anti-war demonstration outside a federal building in Minneapolis. The protesters were charged with obstructing access to a federal building. The documents don’t make special mention of Wellstone other than noting he was one of the arrested. They also don’t reveal how the Wellstone’s specific case ended, but most of the defendants were convicted and either fined $35 or imprisoned for five days.
- After Wellstone took office in 1991, the agency investigated several death threats made to his office. Wellstone, always vehemently anti-war, had made his first major vote in the Senate one against authorizing military force against Iraq in the first Gulf War. Callers to Wellstone’s office threatened to “throttle” the senator and otherwise harm him. The FBI tracked down one of the callers, who admitted to making the call, but did not prosecute him. The file also shows that Wellstone was assigned protective detail for a week in 1995 after a caller said, “I’m watching you senator and I’m going to kill you within the week.”
- In October 2002, just days before facing Republican Norm Coleman on Election Day, Wellstone was killed in a plane crash. His wife, daughter, three staffers and the pilots were also killed. Although the National Transportation Safety Board led the investigation into the crash itself, the FBI followed several potential criminal leads. The file shows that agents questioned witnesses of the crash — one of whom claimed he heard gunshots before the plane went down — as well as pilots and mechanics with the company that flew the plane.
- The FBI also looked into a claim made by a caller who claimed that the American Trucking Association, angry that Wellstone was planning hearings into organized crime in the trucking industry, arranged to have the plane’s de-icers broken. Staff found that no such hearing was planned.
The FBI closed the case in May 2004, 18 months after the crash.
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