The third person named as a possible participant in a threatening phone call made to Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly has spoken out.
A statement sent to Keweenaw Report by Jake Putala’s attorney, George W. Hyde III, says Putala was “not involved in any threats to Ms. Kelly or her dogs, nor is he aware of such threats. Mr. Putala prides himself on, and has a clear record of, treating all people with respect regardless of political ideology or position.”
The statement also accuses Kelly of timing the revelation of the call for political gain. “These allegations are over seven months old. It seems to be no coincidence that Ms. Kelly has just now involved the media, with her election just days away.” Kelley has said that she was instructed by police not to reveal details about the call until their investigation was complete. Results from that investigation were submitted to the Michigan Attorney General’s office a few days ago.
Putala and Republican County Clerk candidate Justin Kasieta are accused of being part of the early-morning call in March, in which Kelly says she was threatened. Investigators say the call originated from the phone of Matthew Smith, a Davison School Board member who is running for a seat on the Genesee County Board of Commissioners.
Neither the statement from Putala’s attorney, nor a statement provided earlier by Kasieta’s attorney Matthew Eliason, specifically address whether or not their clients were parties to the call. MLive and the Flint Journal, who have been investigating Smith’s involvement, report that Kasieta submitted a statement through his attorney to police, admitting that he monitored the call.
Kasieta works for Republican State Representative Greg Markkanen. Putala works for Republican State Senator Ed McBroom, and is also a regional director for the Unlock Michigan petition campaign. Neither Markkanen nor McBroom have responded to Keweenaw Report’s requests for comments.
Calls for Kasieta to withdraw from the Houghton County clerk’s race are increasing.
Yesterday, the Houghton County Democratic Party requested that Kasieta step down.
In a statement sent to Keweenaw Report, party officials also called on Markkanen and McBroom to condemn the call and the callers, reveal whatever knowledge they may have of the situation, and suspend the two, pending the final result of the investigation.
The Democratic Party also asked the Houghton County Board to call for Kasieta’s withdrawal. The county board will hold a special meeting at noon today. The only agenda item is the appointment of a new road commission member, but there will be a public comment opportunity. You can see the agenda and get a link to the Zoom meeting here.
Janet Metsa, the Democratic candidate running against Markkanen for the 110th District State House seat, also called yesterday for Kasieta to step out of the race, and resign from Markkanen’s staff. She also said Markkanen should “immediately and forcefully condemn all such acts of political intimidation,” and should explain to the public why Kasieta remains in his employ.
An editorial in the Daily Mining Gazette yesterday endorsed Kelly, and called for Kasieta to remove himself from the race.
Here are the statements, as received:
Statement from Jake Putala’s attorney
“Mr. Jake Putala was not involved in any threats to Ms. Kelly or her dogs, nor is he aware of any such threats. These allegations are over seven months old. It seems to be no coincidence that Ms. Kelly has just now involved the media, with her election just days away. Mr. Putala prides himself on, and has a clear record of, treating all people with respect regardless of political ideology or position.
George W. Hyde III
Statement from the Houghton County Democratic Party
Houghton, Michigan – October 15th, 2020 The following facts have now been widely reported, so we will be brief. On March 6, 2020, Jennifer Kelly, Houghton County Clerk and Register of Deeds, received a phone call at 1am from a private number, harassing her and threatening to kill her dogs. Ms. Kelly immediately contacted the Houghton County Sheriff, who traced the call to one Matthew Smith of Genesee County. Mr. Smith denied making the call but Verizon phone records confirmed the call was made from his number, and Ms. Kelly identified his voice.
Also present on the call was Justin Kasieta, who at the time was the constituent representative for State Representative Greg Markkanen and has been, as of February 25th, Jennifer Kelly’s opponent in the 2020 election for Houghton County Clerk. This is confirmed by statements Kasieta made to the Houghton County Sheriff’s office as well as in a statement released by his attorney.
Elected officials, their staff, and those who seek to become elected officials, must be held to the highest ethical and legal standards. No reasonable and decent person would think a 1am phone call implying harm to someone’s pets is within any bounds of morality or law. Issuing threats to one’s opponent in an election goes against the fundamental principle of peaceful elections. A nation committed to those principles cannot reward such behavior by electing anyone who does such things to office.
Because of his actions, calls for Mr. Kasieta to withdraw from the race are coming from all sides, including the Daily Mining Gazette. As people committed to fair and free elections, the Houghton County Democratic Party joins our voice to the rest of our community in calling on Justin Kasieta to do the right thing and suspend his campaign.
Jennifer Kelly has served Houghton County in various capacities for 20 years. While these events have already been discussed at meetings of the County Board of Commissioners, we call on the Board to formalize its responsibility to stand by their colleague and issue a call for Mr. Kasieta to withdraw from his race.
We also call on Representative Markkanen to reaffirm these principles of democracy by condemning the actions of his staffer. To remain quiet in the face of such a perversion of ethics is to be complicit. Unless Mr. Kasieta has kept all of these events from his employer since March — an act which itself would be disqualifying for continued employment — Rep. Markkanen has known about this situation for months and has said nothing as long as it was possible to remain silent. But now the facts have emerged.
As his constituents, we have a right to know: did Rep. Markkanen know about these events and continue employing Justin Kasieta while he ran against the county clerk he participated in threatening? Does he approve of his subordinate’s actions? If not, let him say so, loudly and clearly. We call on him to make a firm statement repudiating any attempt to threaten a candidate’s political opponents, and to immediately suspend Mr. Kasieta from any office of trust he might hold in Michigan’s state government, pending the resolution of this investigation.
Also alleged to be on this call was Jake Putala, district representative for State Sen. Ed McBroom. We also call on Sen. McBroom to issue the same condemnation of any kind of harassment, and if additional information comes to light confirming Mr. Putala’s involvement, for him to suspend Mr. Putala pending the outcome of the investigation.
Statement from Janet Metsa
On March 6, 2020, the incumbent Houghton County Clerk, Jennifer Kelly, received a threatening phone call at 1 am which frightened and alarmed her. I commend Ms. Kelly for going to the police early because we’ve seen how words can escalate into action if unaddressed. For example, we all know about the “militia” group that plotted to kidnap Governor Whitmer or throw her in Lake Michigan. It is very disturbing that her opponent, Justin Kasieta, who also works for Representative Gregory Markkanen in an official capacity, was on this call. Intimidation of a political opponent is not a childish prank. It is illegal and has no place in political life.
Representative Markkanen has worked with Mr. Kasieta for years and has also strongly supported his run against Ms. Kelly. As a public official, Mr. Markkanen needs to immediately and forcefully condemn all such acts of political intimidation. If he has known about the threatening call investigation for many months, he should also explain why Mr. Kasieta remains officially in his employ.
Mr. Kasieta does not show the maturity, integrity, or respect for the district’s constituents that Rep. Markkanen’s constituent service representative should have. Mr. Kasieta’s actions have set a very poor example, and if Mr. Markkanen doesn’t fire him, he should resign for the good of the office he serves.
I want to express solidarity and support for Jennifer Kelly and urge all public officials and their supporters to restore decency in public life.