Politics

Jason Lewis Campaign Calls Release of Talk Show Tapes a ‘Hit Job’

CNN resurfaces more controversial comments Minnesota Republican made on talk show

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis is running for a second term in the 2nd District and faces Democrat Angie Craig again. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Among those who weren’t surprised that old comments from Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis’ radio talk show days were published by CNN on Friday?

The freshman Republican congressman.

“Surprise, two weeks before the election and more talk show tapes appear. Boy, didn’t see that one coming,” Lewis campaign manager Becky Alery said in a statement Friday afternoon that called the publication of the audio “a deliberate hit job.” 

“Here we go again with bottom feeders who will do anything to help the left-wing cause,” she said.

CNN on Friday publicized comments Lewis made on his radio show in 2012 — four years before he was elected to represent Minnesota’s 2nd District — when he mocked women who said they had been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances from GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. 

“I don’t want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?” Lewis said, according to CNN’s review of the audio. “How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that’s going to be seared in your memory that you’ll need therapy for?”

Also in 2012, Lewis said sexual harassment law “distorts our free speech rights,” according to CNN. 

ICYMI: As Early Voting Begins, A Look at Minnesota's Uber-Competitive House Races

CNN resurfaced other comments from Lewis’ radio talk show days earlier this year, building upon a body of his controversial comments about women and slavery that emerged in 2016. A law firm representing the station that produced Lewis’ show sent CNN a cease-and-desist letter for using what it argued was copyrighted material. CNN has said it’s using the audio under the “fair use” doctrine.

Lewis has always argued that as a talk show host, he was paid to be provocative.

Democrats tried to use his comments about women against him during the 2016 campaign, but they are largely ignoring them in his rematch with Democratic-Farmer-Labor nominee Angie Craig this year. Lewis’ past comments were a big part of Craig’s 2016 advertisements. Not so this year.

“The truth is, I don’t bring it up,” Craig in an interview in Minnesota late last month when asked about the controversial comments. “If people want to know, what do I disagree with Jason Lewis on, I’m focused on his votes for the American Health Care Act, I’m focused on the tax bill he voted for.”

Friday’s CNN story hasn’t changed that.

“This type of thinking just doesn’t reflect our Minnesota values,” Craig campaign spokesperson Mara Kunin said in a statement. But the DFL nominee’s team reiterated that Lewis’ comments aren’t its focus this year: “As we have said before, we continue to be more offended by his votes against Minnesota families.”

Lewis defeated Craig by 2 points in 2016 in a district that backed President Donald Trump by an equally narrow margin. Craig is expected to benefit from a more favorable national environment this year and the absence of a third-party candidate who took nearly 8 percent of the vote two years ago. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic.

In its response Friday, Lewis’ team suggested that the latest CNN story, published just weeks before the election, meant Democrats were nervous about Craig’s chances. 

“It’s obvious that Democrats have become increasingly alarmed that radical candidate Angie Craig is once again failing in the race for MN-02, so we’re returning to the land of smears by pointing to years-old comments from talk radio that have been litigated over, and over, (and over!) again,” Alery said in the lengthy statement.

“Let’s see, in 2016, they accused Lewis of promoting slavery and heroin. So now, after doing their dirty work on Judge Brett Kavanaugh, they’re weaponizing the sexual harassment issue for electoral gain. Lewis, of course, was mocking false claims of harassment and precisely the environment that tried to destroy Clarence Thomas and Judge Kavanaugh,” she continued. 

The Lewis campaign also attacked Craig for having campaigned with Minnesota figures facing sexual harassment allegations, including former state Sen. Dan Schoen, Garrison Keillor, former Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison, who’s running for state attorney general.

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