Found: late North Dakota attorney general's emails, thought lost forever.

BISMARCK — The successor of North Dakota's late attorney general disclosed thousands of emails, long-sought and considered lost forever. Wednesday saw Attorney General Drew Wrigley release 2,000 redacted emails. He stated 6,000 more emails and uncounted text messages must be scrutinized and released.

His executive assistant, Liz Brocker, erased Wayne Stenehjem's emails days after his January 2022 death, thinking they were gone forever. The deleted emails and $1 million building cost overrun under Stenehjem, revealed by Wrigley, startled state lawmakers and government watchdogs. An ex-lawmaker is under investigation for the emails.

Mostly about staff messaging and office meetings, the emails span 2021–2022. The fact that Stenehjem used a private email account for state business is legal but “does not defeat open records provisions,” Wrigley said Thursday.

Recently, Wrigley's staff found the emails. After Stenehjem's death, investigators found them in a backup of his smartphone as they prepared to try Republican former state Sen. Ray Holmberg.

A federal indictment filed last autumn charges Holmberg, 80, of Grand Forks with traveling to Europe to pay for sex with a minor and receiving child sexual abuse photographs. His plea is not guilty. A September trial is scheduled.

Holmberg and Stenehjem were friends and legislators for decades. Early 2022 saw Holmberg resign. Wrigley claims Stenehjem testified and was questioned in the Holmberg case. In relation with Holmberg, Stenehjem was not charged.

In mid-2022, media requested Stenehjem's correspondence after Wrigley revealed the cost overrun. Lawmakers questioned trust and construction project management. The initiative sought to centralize attorney general divisions in Bismarck.

Reporters' records requests revealed Stenehjem's and his deputy Troy Seibel's erased email accounts after they left. Around the time reporters learned of her deletions, Brocker quit. In February, a special prosecutor declined to charge over lost emails. Wrigley said records requests, the Holmberg case, and the cost overrun are being assessed with the emails.

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