Yesterday, I expressed the hope that killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg might spare his fellow Republicans the trouble of voting on South Dakota’s first impeachment by finally announcing his resignation.
Instead, around 10 p.m. last night, about eleven hours before the South Dakota House of Representatives convenes to consider his impeachment, Ravnsborg issued a four-page letter and a three-page rebuttal (tweeted in full last night by KSFY’s Austin Goss) arguing that the House should not impeach him because all he did was have a traffic accident, and because he’s on a mission from God to investigate Kristi Noem, whom he says has broken the law and is trying to “undermine, criticize and usurp the powers and privileges of the House”:
Of course, even as he is fighting for his political survival, Ravnsborg’s lawyerly incompetence shines through in multiple errors—not debatable arguments or statements of fact, but flat-out mistakes. Some errors are mere typos, but when you’re writing the most important political argument of your life, you start writing well before 10 p.m. and you eliminate every error:
- Ravnsborg says that Article Five of the United States Constitution says he is innocent until proven guilty [p. 1, para. 3]. Article Five is his radical right-winger friends’ favorite article, the one they want to use to convene a Convention of the States to rewrite the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment provides the presumption of innocence and due process of law.
- Ravnsborg fails to proofread, saying “I remained quite to let the legal process play out” [p. 1, para. 6].
- Ravnsborg misuses a semicolon, separating phrases in a list that should be separated by commas: “to let the legal process play out; to let the facts stand on their own, and to not color any public sentiment” [p. 1 para. 6].
- Ravnsborg leaves a curious and telling strike-out: “Cell phone usage was ruled
is not right butunrelated to the accident and not the basis for impeachment” [p. 3, para. 4]. Ravnsborg apparently recognized he shouldn’t mention his moral culpability in any way but then forgot to hit “Accept Change” in his MS Word document and then forgot to check the printed copy to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
- Ravnsborg makes three errors in one sentence: “…future impeachment proceeding will to the standard you established here” [p. 4, para. 0].
- Ravnsborg can’t use apostrophes correctly: “I respectfully ask that you adopt the House Investigation Committees’ majority report…” [p. 4, para 5]. Apostrophe after the s indicates there it more than one committee. There is not.
Ravnsborg pays about as much attention to writing correctly as he does to driving. If he drafts his arguments this poorly to save his own political skin, imagine how little care he puts into drafting court arguments for the state and other clients.
Beyond the bonehead errors, Ravnsborg’s letter is filled with misrepresentations and faulty arguments:
- Ravnsborg claims he ran for Attorney General in 2018 “because our state had scandals such as EB-5 and GEARUP handled without proper oversight” [p. 2, para. 1]. Baloney. EB-5 and GEAR UP never figured prominently in Ravnsborg’s campaigns. In 2014, when EB-5 was exploding in the news and when Ravnsborg was running for U.S. Senate, Ravnsborg occasionally talked about EB-5, but he refused to run an ad challenging frontrunner Mike Rounds for his handling of EB-5 when he was Governor. In his four-year campaign to win the 2018 nomination, Ravnsborg toured the state talking about ISIS, Sharia law, and ballot questions, not EB-5 or GEAR UP or other examples of in-state corruption. In 2018, Democratic candidate Randy Seiler talked about the need to tackle the corruption revealed in EB-5 and GEAR UP while Ravnsborg, who sounded to journalists like he wasn’t prepared for a question on transparency, talked about more openness from the South Dakota Bar Association. And I challenge any reader to point to any initiative Ravnsborg has pushed in office to reveal any further information about EB-5 or GEAR UP or to root out other possible corruption in state government.
- Ravnsborg claims boldly that Noem has violated his civil rights and privacy rights [p. 2, para. 5]. This claim has no legal basis. Ravnsborg committed crimes. The information Noem has released about the investigation of those crimes is public record. Her calls for his resignation and his impeachment are protected political expression. The Governor hasn’t violated Ravnsborg’s rights any more than I have with my extensive blogging on the facts of his case and my advocacy for his removal from office.
- Ravnsborg claims, “Since I refused to resign, the Governor sought to undermine, criticize and usurp the powers and privileges of the House” [p .2, para. 8]. Criticizing the Legislature is the right of every citizen, including the Governor, a right to be exercised enthusiastically to ensure good government. Advocating impeachment of a law-breaking killer does not undermine or usurp any Legislative authority; quite to the contrary, such advocacy calls on the Legislature to use its authority properly, in faith to its oath to uphold the South Dakota Constitution.
- Ravnsborg says his distracted driving should not count as an impeachable crime, “because who among you has never used their cell phone while driving?” [p. 3, para. 3…and count that use of their instead of your as another grammatical error]. Ravnsborg should know as well as any other lawyer that the fact that other people have committed a crime does not serve as a legal basis for acquitting a defendant of a crime.
- Ravnsborg argues that “The Constitution explicitly says ‘crimes,’…not crimes that are impossible to bring…” [p. 3, para. 5]. Ravnsborg cuts the card too quickly, omitting that Article 16 Section 3 of the South Dakota Constitution also says grounds for impeachment include “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office.”
- Ravnsborg continues to cast doubt on whether he was driving outside of his lane—”if you even believe it occurred” [p. 3, para. 6]. He challenges the Highway Patrol’s conclusion that all four of his tires were north of the fog line as a mere “theory” [rebuttal document, p. 2, para. 6]. Yet Ravnsborg pled no contest and was thus convicted of making an illegal lane change. All available evidence indicates that Ravnsborg was driving completely on the shoulder at 68 miles per hour when he hit and killed Joe Boever. That crime occurred; there is no reason to believe it didn’t.
Ravnsborg is notably playing the corruption card, claiming that his office “has multiple ongoing investigations into the Governor’s alleged activities and people associated with her” [p. 2, para. 3]. He declines to specify what and which associates he is investigating, claiming that he is respecting Noem’s right to due process in a way she has not respected his. That accusation should nonetheless make the news, and regardless of today’s vote, we should expect the Attorney General someday soon to release all the information he has about corruption in the Executive Branch.
But any claim to moral high ground should disappear in what may be viewed as the most selfish, tone-deaf statement of Ravnsborg’s letter:
Every day I think about Joe Boever, a man I had never met, who changed my life forever [Jason Ravnsborg, letter to legislators, 2022.04.11, p. 4, para. 3].
Joe Boever did not change your life, Jason. You ended his life. Joe Boever did not act upon you; you acted upon him. You, through your recklessness, killed him. Any changes to your life that have resulted from your action are minuscule compared to the fact that you took his life from him.
Members of the House, don’t let Jason Ravnsborg’s hasty, sloppy, last-ditch legalisms and allegations of corruption distract you from the primary facts of this case. Jason Ravnsborg broke the law, killed a man, and lied about it. Jason Ravnsborg has lost the confidence of law enforcement and nearly everyone else in South Dakota. He cannot perform the duties of Attorney General, and he does not deserve to hold that office. Impeach him.