IDAHO FALLS – An eastern Idaho state representative is suing a critic, alleging that he defamed him.
Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, filed the lawsuit against Gregory Graf, who runs the blog Political Potatoes, alleging that on Oct. 19, 2020, Graf called Christensen’s boss at an Idaho Falls State Farm Insurance office and alleged Christensen had committed several crimes.
Christensen said he was standing up for himself in filing the lawsuit.
“Graf’s been a political enemy for quite some time,” he said. “He called my boss and tried to get me fired.”
According to the complaint filed Feb. 26 by Christensen and his attorney, Graf contacted EmmaLee Robinson on Facebook and said, “I do a lot of investigative work – which is why I know all things Chad – and extremism and domestic terrorism and why the FBI turn to me when they want to know what’s going on in Idaho.”
Christensen alleges Graf told Robinson that Christensen was involved in “organized criminal activity,” and he committed campaign finance violations. Graf reportedly told Robinson, “I say this with evidence. Chad is a sexual predator.”
In a statement to the Post Register, Graf called the lawsuit “the latest salvo in a now three-year effort by far-right politicians and activists to silence my First Amendment protected rights to free speech.”
Graf claims the call and Robinson’s recording of it were part of a scheme against him that involves several of the state’s prominent ultra- and far-right organizations, including members of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Real 3%ers of Idaho.
Graf’s statement said: “Things took a strange turn in October of 2020 when I received unsolicited contact from Christensen’s employer inquiring about Christensen. Asked whether she was inquiring on her own behalf or his, Christensen’s employer assured me she was inquiring for her own interest and went on to suggest that she had observed ‘red flags’ about him and wanted to confirm that it would be safe to have him in her workplace. Based upon her purported concerns, I agreed to have a conversation by phone. During a 45-minute conversation, Christensen’s employer raised a number of specific concerns or suspicions and I provided information that I believed directly relevant to the concerns she expressed and her question of whether it would be safe to have Christensen in her workplace.
“Unbeknownst to me, Christensen’s employer had determined to record our conversation and Christensen himself helped her identify a mobile application she could use to record our call. Christensen’s voice has been confirmed to be on the recording. Within a day of the call, Christensen’s associate – a spokesman for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, began circulating claims online that they had information they intended to use to expose me and that an exposé would be coming out very soon. …”
In Christensen’s lawsuit, he also alleged Graf told Robinson that Adam Frugoli, an Idaho Falls Republican who ran for the state senate in 2020, had contacted him saying he had seen text messages sent by Christensen that contained “inappropriate pictures and advances.” The lawsuit read “Graf went on to allege (Christensen) was married at the time (of the alleged texts). There’s a reason why he’s been thrice divorced.”
In his lawsuit, Christensen said Graf’s claim about the alleged texts is false. Frugoli told the Post Register he had not spoken to Graf about Christensen.
The complaint accuses Graf of defamation and of violating the Idaho Consumer Protection Act by unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Christensen seeks damages of “less than or equal to $35,000, but greater than $10,000.” He also seeks to have Graf pay attorney fees.
Graf’s attorney filed an answer April 9. Graf admitted to speaking to Robinson and that he said Christensen was a sexual predator, but denied making the other alleged statements.
Robinson reached out to the Post Register and verified she had spoken with Graf and that she recorded the conversation and shared the recording with Christensen. She said she recorded the conversation so she would have proof of the call if she decided to fire Christensen.
“I was worried that I had an employee threatening people with a gun,” Robinson said. She said she wanted the recording, “in case I got into a situation that was hearsay, so that I had documentation.”
Graf filed a petition in November to depose Robinson. The court filing in that case stated Graf needed her statements to identify individuals he believed were “engaged in a civil conspiracy to defame, undermine and silence Graf.”
Graf’s petition for Robinson’s deposition was dismissed after Christensen sued him and in anticipation that she would be deposed in the lawsuit. In the filing, Graf alleges his support for Christensen’s political opponents made him a target of “individuals closely aligned with the more extreme and radical factions of the Idaho Republican Party.”
Robinson has since been deposed in conjunction with the lawsuit.
Both Graf’s petition and his statement to the Post Register allege he was the target of death threats and threats to his family, including posting photographs of his family on social media of “extremist groups including ‘The Real 3%ers of Idaho.’ ” Graf alleges Christensen and members of the Real 3%ers attended a September 2019 candidate training workshop at the Bonneville County Courthouse, where Graf was a presenter, with the intent to intimidate him.
Graf alleges another person at the workshop claimed to have seen one of the group members had a concealed handgun inside the courthouse. Law enforcement reportedly contacted the group in the parking lot, where they were carrying guns, but told police they had not taken the guns into the courthouse.
Graf claimed Christensen’s group “heckled and harassed” Graf during and after his presentation.
Christensen has been criticized in the past for his association with militia groups, including the Real 3%ers of Idaho and the Oath Keepers, the latter of which has faced scrutiny for its reported involvement in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Before filing the lawsuit, Christensen made a request to Graf for an out-of-court settlement of $35,000 – the same amount he seeks in the lawsuit.
Graf’s answer to the lawsuit denies “each and every allegation” made in Christensen’s lawsuit. Graf’s answer claims Christensen’s claims are barred because “as … a public figure (he) consented to the publication of criticisms.” Graf’s answer also claims Christensen has “not suffered any actual damage” and “the alleged defamatory statements have not harmed Plaintiff’s already questionable reputation.”
Christensen’s lawsuit demands a jury trial. Graf’s answer also asserted his right to a jury trial on all claims. Graf also seeks an award of attorney’s fees, costs incurred and other relief “as may be just and appropriate.”
A scheduling conference is set for May 13 before District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. in Bonneville District Court.