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The late North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s emails have been released by his successor, Attorney General Drew Wrigley. Stenehjem’s emails were initially thought to be lost forever after being deleted at the direction of his executive assistant when he died in January 2022. The released emails, totaling about 2,000 with redactions, are part of an ongoing investigation into former state Sen. Ray Holmberg.

In addition to the 2,000 emails released, Wrigley has yet to release another 6,000 emails and an undisclosed number of text messages that are still under review. Wrigley revealed that Stenehjem’s emails were preserved in a backup of his personal cellphone, which was extracted soon after his death. The recovered emails have shed light on Stenehjem conducting state business on a private email account, which is lawful but does not exempt them from open records provisions.

The deleted emails and a building cost overrun of over $1 million that occurred under Stenehjem’s tenure, both revealed by Wrigley, caused shock among state lawmakers and government watchdogs. Stenehjem’s emails are now being reviewed in connection with the Holmberg case, where the former state senator is facing charges related to child sexual abuse. Stenehjem was not accused of any crimes in connection to the case, but was a witness and questioned at one point.

The release of Stenehjem’s emails comes after media outlets sought access to the emails following Wrigley’s disclosure of the cost overrun. Lawmakers raised concerns about transparency and trust in how the building project for the attorney general’s office was handled. The project was aimed at consolidating divisions of the attorney general’s office in a single location in Bismarck.

The investigation into the deleted emails, along with the records requests, the Holmberg case, and the cost overrun, are ongoing. Special prosecutor declined to press charges in connection with the deletion of Stenehjem’s emails. The emails released so far appear routine, including staff messages and office meetings, covering the period from 2021 to 2022. Stenehjem’s emails are expected to provide valuable insights into his time as attorney general and his interactions regarding the Holmberg case.

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