Sen. Norm Coleman announced on Thursday that he was filing a lawsuit against his Democratic opponent Al Franken and the Franken campaign over what he deemed defamation of character.
If the move seems dramatic, it shouldn't. This is now the fourth time that the Minnesota Republican has filed a suit late in the course of his runs for office.
During the gubernatorial race in 1998, Coleman filed and later dropped a complaint against his Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey III over an issue of unfair campaign practices. In 2002, the state's Republican party (operating, ostensibly, on Coleman's behalf), filed a complaint against then Senator Paul Wellstone, accusing him of inciting "union thugs" to rough up a GOP cameraman. And, again in 2002, the Coleman campaign filed a separate suit against Wellstone for distorting his stance on social security.
Aides to Coleman, speaking Thursday morning at a hastily organized press conference, seemed far more interested in generating political theatrics than they did in explaining a serious legal quibble.
For starters, their complaint was directed at an advertisement that the Franken campaign aired that claimed Coleman was a stooge of oil interests. The spot was standard fare for politics. Indeed, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has done far worse, accusing Franken of writing pornography, laughing at the disabled, humiliating minorities and demeaning women. And even Coleman's Communications Director Mark Drake acknowledged that the Franken spot was based on "half-truths" (so some of it was accurate?). Only later did he say of the suit:
"It is not a tactic. Sen. Coleman is being falsely attacked. These are flat out falsehoods, this goes beyond the typical tit-for-tat that you see in a campaign... We just want Minnesotans to know, take a look at it. There is one campaign waging a positive campaign...and you have one candidate who will clearly say anything to get elected."
Moreover, the Coleman campaign spent much of the press conference spouting off criticisms of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The non-partisan organization has labeled the Minnesota Senator one of the most corrupt members of the Senate for, among other things, receiving a highly discounted apartment from a major GOP donor and allegedly receiving free suits from another Republican hand.
"CREW is a liberal front group," said Drake. "They do have a few Republicans but overwhelmingly, look at the record, since this was created this is a liberal front group... it is overwhelmingly biased against Republican candidates. The complaints they do against Democrats are window dressing."
In fact, the NRSC actually used CREW's findings to go after Democrat Mary Landrieu in an ad this September.
The weirdest aspect of the Coleman gambit, however, was the political backdrop. On Wednesday, the Senator was cornered by a group of investigative reporters from the Minneapolis Star Tribune who were inquiring about a lawsuit, filed in Texas, that included an allegation that Nasser Kazeminy -- a friend of Coleman's and employer of his wife Laurie -- funneled $75,000 to the Senator's family through his business, Hayes Companies.
The reporters give chase as Coleman is swept to his SUV:
On Thursday morning, before the presser, that lawsuit had been withdrawn as part of a settlement. And aides to the Senator did their best to sweep any suggestion of impropriety under the rug.
"Yesterday there was a totally baseless charge made by reporters," said campaign manager Cullen Sheehan. "The lawsuit was withdrawn... I don't know any details about any settlement. I just know there was a lawsuit filed and it was withdrawn."