The Wellstone Files

By Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
October 25, 2010

From protester to senator, the FBI tracked Paul Wellstone

Paul Wellstone
Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila jog to their campaign bus in their hometown of Northfield, Minn., on Nov. 6, 1990. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

It started with a fingerprint of a 25-year-old college professor who opposed the Vietnam War and ended with a search for his remains, 32 years later, in a wooded area near Eveleth, Minn.

The FBI's files on Paul and Sheila Wellstone, many of which are being made public for the first time after a Freedom of Information Act request by MPR News, shed new light on the extent of the relationship between the FBI and the political activist who would go on to become a U.S. senator from Minnesota.

Some of the information uncovered in the 219 pages was new even to some of his closest confidantes.

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You can read the entire FBI file below and learn more about Paul Wellstone's long history with the FBI.

Paul Wellstone
Paul Wellstone when he was a professor at Carleton College. (Photo courtesy of Carleton College)

The FBI tracks a young Vietnam War protester

Wellstone formed his political opinions while active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and wrote a doctoral dissertation on "Black Militants in the Ghetto: Why They Believe in Violence."

In 1969, he moved to Northfield, Minn. to teach political science at Carleton College.

The FBI took note of the bushy-haired college professor when he was arrested on May 7, 1970 at a protest against the Vietnam War at the Federal Office Building in downtown Minneapolis.

Paul Wellstone
The FBI logged this threat delivered by phone, which said 'Wellstone ought to have a bullet between his eyes.'

Threats against the senator

Wellstone traveled to Washington, D.C. in January 1991 on the green school bus that became famous in his underdog fight against incumbent Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz.

He arrived in the middle of a tense debate over the Persian Gulf conflict and, nine days after being sworn in, voted against a resolution authorizing U.S. military force against Iraq.

Within the first two weeks of his term, Wellstone began receiving death threats for his views on the war.

Paul Wellstone
Federal investigators sift through debris from the twin engine plane that crashed near Eveleth, Minn., killing Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and several others. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The fatal plane crash

When a plane carrying Wellstone, his wife, daughter, and three staffers crashed near Eveleth, Minn. on October 25, 2002, the FBI was among the first agencies to respond.

The plane crash occurred 11 days before the end of a tight Senate race between Wellstone and his Republican opponent Norm Coleman (who went on to win the election), spurring a flurry of conspiracy theories that the crash was not an accident.

The NTSB would later find that the crash was caused by pilot error, but the FBI pursued several criminal leads in the first two days of the investigation, according to the documents obtained by MPR News.

Editors: Bill Wareham, Mike Edgerly — Web producer: Than Tibbetts