Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is running again to regain the seat, is contradicting previous reports on when he first began discussing his campaign after being accused of potentially violating federal law by having conversations about the run while still at the State Department.
Feingold has been accused of discussing his current campaign while still serving as a special envoy at the State Department. Such conversations would be a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits someone in government who does not have an outward political role from engaging in political activity.
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The former senator has denied in recent weeks that he spoke of his plans to run while still serving at the department. During an interview on Sept. 9, Feingold claimed that he knew the rules and did not violate them.
"When I went to the State Department, I knew that people might try to talk to me about politics," he said. "So, I called people up and I said, ‘Look I’m not going to be able to talk about running for office if I’m in this position.’ And so I found out the rules. I followed the rules very carefully."
In another interview just days later with the The Post-Crescent, Feingold admitted he began entertaining the idea of running in 2014.
"When did you start thinking about your campaign? I’ve been reading different articles and there was one from Politico that said in August of 2014 you had talked with your wife actually about–," the host asked Feingold.
"At that time I started thinking that maybe this is something I might want to do," he responded. "But I knew I couldn’t do anything in really pursuing that, until I left the State Department. So when people would say to me, ‘what are you going to do, are you going to run,’ I’d say, ‘look, I need to leave the State Department in order to do that,’ and that’s what I did."
"In March of 2015, I left and I started talking to people. I had to make sure people wanted me to run," Feingold continued. "It wasn’t enough that I was thinking about doing it. So I followed the law completely, and frankly, this is a completely false attack by somebody who’s so afraid of losing his position as a politician that he’s just making stuff up. And it’s sad."
Reports surfaced last year, however, that seem to contradict these claims. It was reported that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester (Mont.) spoke with Feingold in January 2015 about the possibility of jumping back into politics as Feingold was still at the State Department.
"Tester said he talked to former Sen. Russ Feingold in early January about a potential rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.),"the Hill reported in Feb. 2015. "Feingold has been seriously considering a run, and Tester said he’d learned his lesson from what many Democrats viewed as a lackluster 2010 campaign."
The Huffington Post also reported in Feb. 2015 that Feingold spoke with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), and others about running while still serving as a special envoy.