Listen: State Rep. Jim Knoblach drops re-election bid, citing MPR News investigation

MPR’s Nina Moini reports on Jim Knoblach, a high-ranking republican state representative, who is abruptly ending his re-election campaign. MPR News was preparing to publish detailed accusations from his daughter of inappropriate behavior toward her since childhood.

Moini presents a chronological look into the allegations.


2018 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, award of merit in Investigative - Large Market Radio category

2019 Minnesota Page One Award, first place in Online - Best Single News Story category

2019 RTDNA Murrow Award, Radio - Large Market, Region 4 / Investigative Reporting category


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SPEAKER 1: Republican State Representative Jim Knoblach abruptly ended his re-election campaign today as MPR News prepared to report detailed allegations from his 23-year-old daughter of inappropriate behavior toward her since childhood. Knoblach, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, strongly denies the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.

Knoblach's daughter, Laura, says she's telling her story to MPR News because she has attempted for more than a decade to alert trusted figures and authorities to her father's behavior. Our Nina Moini reports. And a warning-- some of the details in this story may be disturbing.

NINA MOINI: Laura Knoblach says she first remembers feeling uncomfortable with her father's behavior when she was nine years old. She says her father came into her room after she'd gone to bed.

LAURA KNOBLACH: He basically climbed into bed with me and would spoon me and was doing that same thing where he would put his arm around me and not let me get up and get away. And he would lick my neck or bite my ear. And it was just super, super uncomfortable.

NINA MOINI: She says this type of behavior happened consistently throughout her childhood and teenage years into adulthood. She confided in friends and some family, a teacher, and a youth pastor, always telling them the same concern.

LAURA KNOBLACH: I'm realizing the older I get that I had no language for what was going on. I didn't hear the word "consent" until I was in college. I didn't know that you could say no.

NINA MOINI: She says although her father never touched or exposed intimate body parts, as she grew into a young woman, it became impossible to deny the inappropriate behavior happened.

LAURA KNOBLACH: I'd started dating someone. And I was just having all these flashbacks. And that was what really set me off to be like, maybe this was something that was not just weird. Because I'm like, oh, my boyfriend kisses me, and I'm thinking of my dad. That's weird. And then I started having these kind of nightmares about it.

NINA MOINI: Jim Knoblach declined to be interviewed. But his attorney, Susan Gaertner, spoke on his behalf to MPR News. Gaertner represented him during a 2017 Sherburne County investigation into Laura Knoblach's allegations.

SUSAN GAERTNER: His concern has been why are you saying these things? I haven't done anything that I thought was inappropriate. I haven't done anything with the intent to hurt your feelings. I certainly have not done anything that was sexual in nature. So help me understand what's going on.

NINA MOINI: Jim Knoblach is among the most powerful figures at the Capitol. Every spending measure must pass through his House Committee. Shortly after I interviewed Gaertner, Knoblach said in a statement that he was immediately ending his re-election campaign. His statement said his daughter made some extremely hurtful and untrue accusations on a Facebook post.

That post was in December of 2016, when Laura Knoblach accused her father of inappropriately touching her for most of her life. That was the same time I reached out to her. She says she took down the Facebook post soon afterwards because of the immediate media attention and her family's reaction.

After that, one of her uncles on her mom's side contacted the police. The Saint Cloud Police Department and Sherburne County Sheriff's Office sent an officer and an investigator to Boulder, Colorado to interview Laura in person in January of 2017.

That month, Laura says, she reached out to her mother, Janet, for help because she was struggling financially. She says her mother told her she was very upset with her for reporting her allegations to police.

LAURA KNOBLACH: And she goes, I don't want to speak to-- I don't want to ever speak to you again and just hangs up the phone. And I was like, I don't know what to do. I ended up going to the hospital that night just because I was so-- I was like, I can't be alone. And all my friends were out of town that weekend. And I was like, OK, that was kind of like the breaking point where I just couldn't do it.

NINA MOINI: Janet Knoblach didn't return MPR News' interview request. A little more than two months after Laura Knoblach went to authorities, the Sherburne County attorney's office released a letter saying the office was declining to file any charges because there was, quote, "insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jim Knoblach had committed a crime."

After this, I did not hear from her again for about a year until this February, when she reached out to me to tell her story. Laura Knoblach requested a copy of her case file from the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office and gave MPR News a copy of all the transcripts.

In August, she obtained audio recordings of all the interviews done as part of the investigation and gave those to MPR News as well. The transcripts and audio establish a timeline of more than a decade when she reached out to various people for help.

SPEAKER 2: So we want to talk to you face to face because we want to get a little bit more detail about some things and make sure that we have everything covered.

NINA MOINI: In a more than two-hour-long interview at Boulder Police department in Colorado in January of 2017, she told investigators she recalled her father touching and kissing her body inappropriately more than 30 times throughout her life. She told me it happened so often she couldn't keep count.

LAURA KNOBLACH: Sometimes he would start at my forearm and almost work his way up to my shoulder and my neck and my ear. And it was just-- it was super uncomfortable. But when you had that reinforcement every single time you tried to go for help and you were told, oh, he just doesn't understand, I really minimized it.

NINA MOINI: She says she told her mother on several instances throughout her life that her father was making her feel uncomfortable. She says her mother usually shrugged it off and said, Jim Knoblach didn't grow up with sisters, implying he didn't understand how to interact with girls.

The case file shows Janet Knoblach declined to talk with investigators through an attorney. The case file has no mention of any attempt to interview Jim Knoblach. And the Sherburne County Sheriff said Jim declined to be interviewed through his attorney, which Gaertner confirmed to MPR News.

SUSAN GAERTNER: These claims are hurtful. These claims are damaging to his reputation. These claims are untrue. These claims are being made long after the conduct that she is complaining of. And these claims are being made in an environment, the #MeToo era, that makes it extremely difficult to defend yourself.

NINA MOINI: The case file also includes an interview with Laura's cousin Isabelle Hughes. Hughes told MPR News that Laura confided in her when she was in fifth grade and Laura was in eighth grade about a decade ago. She says Laura told her that Jim Knoblach was touching and kissing her inappropriately but asked her cousin not to tell anyone because her parents told her not to tell anyone.

ISABELLE HUGHES: It was really scary. And I didn't know what to do. And I didn't tell anyone, which I'm kind of sad about.

NINA MOINI: Laura Knoblach says when she was around 15 years old, she remembers feeling afraid when her father asked her a question.

LAURA KNOBLACH: He crawled into bed with me like that. And he had me just pinned down. My arms are pinned down, and my legs are pinned down. And he was like, do you like it when your dad plays with you like this?

NINA MOINI: She says she told her father yes because she felt she had no choice. According to the case file, a youth pastor told law enforcement that Laura Knoblach confided in him between 2011 and 2012 that her father made her very uncomfortable through actions like extended hugs, laying next to her in bed, and trying to get her to sit on his lap.

That pastor told authorities he called child protection services in Stearns County but was told the claims didn't sound serious enough to be considered sexual abuse. CPS records are not public because the agency deals with minors. The pastor asked MPR News not to use his name to protect his privacy, but he confirmed what he told investigators.

Growing up in the Saint Cloud area, Laura Knoblach attended Saint Cloud Christian School, a private school where she confided in a teacher. MPR News is not naming the teacher to protect his privacy. And he didn't respond to multiple calls.

The teacher provided investigators with a copy of a note he wrote to the school principal on January 30, 2013 about allegations Laura Knoblach made against her father about him showing affection to her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable.

A copy of that note is in the case file. Saint Cloud Christian School told authorities the school has no record of the note, according to the case file. The school didn't return MPR News' request for comment.

During an interview with law enforcement, one Saint Cloud officer told Laura Knoblach, according to the case file transcript, that he believed she's not making up her story but that he had reviewed the five degrees of criminal sexual conduct under Minnesota state law and determined her father's actions were, quote, "really inappropriate but not criminal."

When she was interviewed by investigators from Sherburne County in Boulder last year, Laura Knoblach described what she was told by that Saint Cloud officer.

LAURA KNOBLACH: Basically, my dad hadn't done anything illegal last time we talked. Is this something that you still think I should have come out about because I felt like, really, I don't know.

SPEAKER 2: Well, and understand, Laura, we're not done investigating this.

NINA MOINI: Laura Knoblach says her father inappropriately touched her as recently as three years ago when she was 20 at their family home in Sherburne County after shooting off fireworks in the back yard.

LAURA KNOBLACH: As I was walking back in, my dad just grabs me and throws me up against the car. And he basically grabbed each of my wrists and pinned my wrists above my head and just started slobbering open-mouth kisses with tongue on my neck and biting my ear.

NINA MOINI: In the fall of 2016, before the criminal investigation, Laura Knoblach says her parents arranged for the three of them to talk with a counselor.

LAURA KNOBLACH: And so he basically says, well, I don't remember any of that. And I'm like, really? I just told you stuff that's been going on for over 10 years. This is our entire relationship. You've done this stuff weekly for my entire life. And I'm like, how can you just not remember that?

And essentially, I'm sorry you took it wrong. If I did indeed do any of those things, I'm sorry you took it the wrong way.

NINA MOINI: Jim Knoblach's attorney says that was the first time he was made aware of his daughter's allegations. When I went to Boulder to interview Laura Knoblach in person in July, she showed me a few medals she dug out of some boxes. She's a decorated athlete who trains for Ironman competitions around the world.

LAURA KNOBLACH: So the one that I did is called the Deca Continuous. And you swim 24 miles, bike 1,120, and run 262. And that's the one that I've done and that I have the US women's record for.

NINA MOINI: During our four-hour-long interview, Laura admitted one of the reasons she started pushing herself was to cope with her memories. She says the friends she's met through racing are now like family to her. She's not speaking with her immediate family members, who she says have painted her as a liar and unstable.

LAURA KNOBLACH: What was going on with my dad, I could keep quiet by myself. But now that my entire family had been like, you'll lose your family, and you're doing this terrible thing, and you're this terrible person. And if we lose our health insurance because he loses his job, it's your fault. And if he loses the next election, it's your fault.

And even after I posted this on Facebook, he's like, your dad's boss said this to him. That's your fault, basically. And your dad is facing all these people who are confronting him. That's your fault. And I couldn't be quiet anymore.

NINA MOINI: Without telling her story, Laura Knoblach says she feels she can't move forward. Nina Moini, Minnesota Public Radio News.

SPEAKER 1: For more on Representative Knoblach's decision to end his re-election campaign and to see some of the documents in the case, go to


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