The chief deputy of the Montana Attorney General’s Office confirmed Friday she is in the process of leaving the post, but declined to comment further on the transition.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Kris Hansen was named Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s No. 2 over the Department of Justice in December 2020 before Knudsen took office the following month.
Hansen was previously the deputy state auditor and chief legal counsel under then-State Auditor Matt Rosendale. Before that, she was a Republican lawmaker representing Havre at the state Legislature. She served for two sessions, in 2011 and 2013, in the state House, and spent another two sessions in the Senate in 2015 and 2017.
Hansen confirmed in a brief phone call that she has “not fully” departed from the office but that the process is underway. She directed further questions to the Attorney General’s spokesperson.
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The reasons for Hansen’s departure remain unclear. A spokesperson with the Attorney General’s Office said Friday it would respond next week to the Montana State News Bureau’s questions, including answering if a replacement has been selected.
Hansen was directly involved in a number of controversial episodes involving the Attorney General’s Office last year, one of which drew an investigation by state lawmakers.
In that case, Hansen took a call from the family of a former state Senate staffer who claimed a Helena hospital had cut off access to the family member who was sick with COVID-19. The patient was involved in Republican politics and a longtime member of local GOP groups.
In response to the family’s claims, which included saying the hospital denied the patient ivermectin, the Attorney General’s Office dispatched a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to St. Peter’s Hospital to speak with the family.
Hospital officials said three public officials, later confirmed as Hansen, Knudsen and Montana Public Service Commissioner Jennifer Fielder “harassed and threatened” its doctors. The Attorney General’s Office has maintained Knudsen and Hansen did not threaten anyone. A subsequent legislative investigation found Hansen discussed “legal ramifications” with the patient’s health care providers.
Hansen also authored a defiant letter to the state Supreme Court at a critical moment in last year’s conflict between Republicans and the judicial branch. At the time, the Attorney General’s Office was representing the Senate Republicans, which sought to unearth Supreme Court records as it built up its own investigation into whether jurists were determining the constitutionality of legislation that would later be challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court quashed one of the Legislature’s subpoenas to the state administration department ordering the release of the court administrator’s emails. In her letter, Hansen called the court’s order to quash the subpoena an “interference in the Legislature’s investigation.”
“The Legislature does not recognize this court’s order as binding and will not abide by it,” Hansen wrote.
Hansen is also a Montana National Guard veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008-2009 and served a tour with the Central Intelligence Agency in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993-1994, according to the press release that announced her as Chief Deputy Attorney General in late 2020. Hansen was also previously secretary for the state GOP.