The Republican Party of Minnesota alleged that Attorney General Keith Ellison threatened a Northfield farmer on Tuesday, calling it an "abuse of power," a claim the Attorney General's Office is refuting.

Doug Felton, who hosted the Make America Great Again event featuring President Donald Trump's son Eric Trump at his Northfield farm Tuesday evening, said he received a call from the Attorney General's Office that morning informing him that he must follow Gov. Tim Walz's COVID-19 response mandates and submit a plan for the event to the state. He said he didn't submit a plan because he didn't know how to fulfill the request or have time for an attorney to review a plan Tuesday. 

Before the event began, there were several hundred people gathering at Felton's farm, many wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. A majority were not wearing masks. Eric Trump's stop in Northfield Tuesday was part of his tour to campaign for his father's reelection. 

Felton said the call he received was politically based intimidation by the attorney general. Noting the negative consequences the pandemic and government response has had on farmers, he said he doesn't support the state's regulations in regard to age and pre-existing conditions, which can make a person more vulnerable to a serious complications from COVID-19. 

"If the good Lord wants me, he's going to take me," Felton said.

Ellison said in a statement that it's everyone's responsibility to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the call Felton received was "a routine inquiry" about his COVID-19 preparedness plan for the event.

"Our goal in making inquiries like these, which we have been making of events for months, is to protect people's lives: We do not try to stop events, we simply try to make sure they're held safely," Ellison said.

Ellison said Felton assured the Attorney General's Office that he has a preparedness plan and was asked to submit to the office. The AG's Office said Tuesday afternoon it was waiting to receive Felton's plan.

Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state Republican Party, said Ellison was "using his office to play politics" by threatening Felton. Residents aren't required to file paperwork with the state for private gatherings and the state Republican Party plans to file a cease-and-desist order with the Attorney General's Office, according to Carnahan.

John Stiles, Ellison's deputy chief of staff, said Ellison didn't call the event venue himself and didn't know the call was happening. An attorney in the office who helps enforce Walz's executive orders regarding the pandemic called Felton to inquire about his COVID-19 preparedness plan, which is "a pretty routine call," according to Stiles. 

The Attorney General's Office doesn't know what the state political party means by cease-and-desist order and hadn't received anything like that as of Tuesday evening, according to Stiles.

Carnahan said Ellison selectively enforces the mandates based on political considerations and violates the freedom of association in the U.S. Constitution. She called on his office to release similar COVID-19 plans sent to other businesses. It's "a clear abuse of power," she said, pointing out that DFLers have also spoken at large events during the pandemic, including when Walz spoke at the vigil in Minneapolis for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

"The abuse of power and control from certain elected officials in Minnesota is infringing on the rights of our citizens," she said.

Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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