A six-month-old video of GOP gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott Jensen, in which he appears to smile and joke about getting "help from Mr. Putin," is drawing renewed attention from opponents.
The clip, highlighted on March 3 by former Minnesota Republican Party Deputy Chair Michael Brodkorb, is from September of 2021, months before Russia invaded Ukraine. In it, Jensen explains to the crowd that he was "on the Moscow news" one day.
(It's unclear which Russian news station Jensen is referencing, though many of the most prominent networks — such as RT, Russia-1 and First Channel — are controlled by the Russian government.)
Jensen says the segment was about how "in America, they're so afraid of the truth that a doctor who tells the truth gets in trouble."
Continues Jensen, speaking energetically: "I never really expected any help from Mr. Putin, but I'm getting it."
The line draws laughs from the crowd as Jensen shifts to explain that this was a sign his "life was changing."
Jensen says he was under investigation in 2020 by the state medical board for spreading COVID misinformation, which came after he compared the virus to the flu, and suggested Minnesota's COVID death numbers were being exaggerated.
Brodkorb – a critic of Jensen's – called the candidate's apparent enthusiasm for support from Russian-owned state television "appalling." And the next day one of Jensen's key opponents, Sen. Michelle Benson, also issued sharp criticism.
"Any one who remembers history knows that a KGB-trained power-hungry leader is nothing to joke about," Benson tweeted. "Scott Jensen's attempt to seek applause from praise by Vladimir Putin is another disappointing example of his bad judgment."
As of Monday morning, none of the other leading gubernatorial candidates seeking the GOP endorsement had commented on the matter via social media or in a news release.
Jensen has countered the criticism from Benson, calling her comment "shameful and disgraceful," and accusing her of getting "in the mud with baseless smears and far-left talking points." In a statement (shared by Seth Kaplan of FOX 9) he also called it "ridiculous" to suggest he praised Putin, and said his words were "no endorsement of Putin, passively or otherwise, and he in no way endorsed me."
The Democratic Governors Association, a political organization that supports current Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also highlighted Jensen's comments, saying his refusal to apologize and subsequent jab at Benson are evidence the GOP field is divided.
State Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, also shared video of Jensen's comments, calling the candidate's positions on COVID "dangerous and unscientific." He also said it is evidence Russia has "weaponized" COVID misinformation (which has been reported on and verified since the early days of the ongoing pandemic).
Jensen, a self-described COVID "skeptic," has routinely cast doubt on the effectiveness of COVID vaccines, has touted unproven treatments for COVID such as ivermectin, called for civil disobedience in response to COVID vaccine and testing rules, and doesn't appear to believe the widely proven results of the 2020 election.
He won the statewide Republican straw poll for governor, though the results have since come under question for discrepancies.