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Leaked Caucus Transcript Shows Investigation of Drunk Senators Was “Sham Committee” with Outcome Prearranged by Jackley, Bolin, and Rusch

Two years ago, Senator Kris Langer and Senator Brock Greenfield drank heavily at a house party hosted by lobbyist Dean Krogman on the last long night of the 2020 Legislative Session and then showed up at the final coronavirus-remote Senate meeting in no condition to legislate. Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who also attended that lobbyist house party with Langer and Greenfield and who also looked a little rough around the edges at that final Senate meeting, used parliamentary trickery to delay any immediate inquiry into the Republican Senate leaders’ obvious inebriation.

Legislating while drunk had to provoke some action from the Senate, and indeed, less than a month later, Langer and Greenfield apologized to a Senate Interim Investigatory Committee, which declined to censure and merely admonished the indulgent Senators.

Now Bob Mercer obtains a transcript of a secret Republican caucus phone meeting in which Republican Senators worked out that meager discipline ahead of time with Langer and Greenfield’s lawyer Marty Jackley, leaving the public hearing a face-saving sham.

What wasn’t publicly known at the time was that Republican Senators Jim Bolin of Canton and Art Rusch of Vermillion had worked with Marty Jackley on the plan beforehand and then privately discussed the plan with the Republican Senate caucus, minus Langer and Greenfield.

…According to the transcript from the April 2020 meeting of Republican senators, Bolin led off by recounting what he and Rusch, a retired circuit judge, had already negotiated with Jackley over a period of several days.

…Bolin read the apology, then asked Rusch if he had a copy of the admonition that had been agreed upon with Jackley [Bob Mercer, “Discipline of S.D. Senate Leaders Was Pre-Arranged,” KELO-TV, 2022.05.15].

Bolin, Rusch, and Jackley appeared to conspire to thwart the expressed will of the Legislature’s Executive Board, which voted to create an interim committee to investigate Langer and Greenfield’s conduct and report to the Senate. Senator Jeff Partridge said failing to form the committee that the Executive Board voted to firm would be problematic, and Senator Lee Schoenbeck agreed. Schoenbeck said that to properly sweep the matter under the rug, they needed to rig the panel with members who supported the Bolin–Rusch-Jackley deal:

Said Schoenbeck, “Let me say, the work you guys — it’s a great way to avoid a full pile of embarrassment for a lot of (unintelligible). But the way to fix it, Jeff is describing it, we should vote on a motion to appoint five caucus members who will support the Bolin-Rusch recommendation for apology and admonition. Because we also don’t want five people, any of the five that want to open it back up to some other donnybrook. That’s the motion we should vote on. And if a majority of us accept that, then we complied with E-Board” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].

Senator Wayne Steinhauer said that sounded like a great idea and moved to “short-circuit” the process:

Eventually Senator Wayne Steinhauer of Hartford made a motion. “Without making preparatory comments, if I could make them at the end, I’d move that the Republican caucus appoint five members as requested by the E-Board; that Senator Bolin picks the five; that the five, that Senator Bolin’s directed to pick those, that would be predisposed to accept the apology and the admonition; that the committee assemble at least once; request that Marty Jackley present the apology and the admonition; and that you move immediately to accept it and you vote as a block of five to accept it. That would be my motion.”

Steinhauer then explained. “I think that there — if we were to go to a lengthy trial, there are facts that would — we’d end up in this position anyhow. I think this is a great way to short-circuit it, crossing the E-Board or having an issue in the public eye where we did not follow the directions of the E-Board. We will at least have assembled a committee, we will have met at least once, and I think we’ll have taken appropriate action. That’s the reason for my motion” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].

Langer and Greenfield could have spared the caucus this trouble by simply resigning, but Bolin said there was no way Langer and Greenfield would take that kind of responsibility for their actions:

“I did have one conversation with Mr. Jackley on Easter Sunday afternoon that Senator Rusch was not involved with, and that question was again raised. And that — I’ll just tell you this, that was never — the question was raised — that is unacceptable to both Senator Langer and Senator Greenfield. And if that is part of the requirement, they are prepared to, I guess, use the phrase ‘lawyer up’ and fight to the end on that issue for everything. They’re going to withdraw their apology if that is, in fact, the desire of the caucus” [Senator Jim Bolin, in Mercer, 2022.05.15].

And Senator Rusch said the pre-arranged outcome, which Senator Deb Soholt referred to in the secret caucus call as a “sham committee”, was pretty much the only outcome Langer, Greenfield, and Jackley would accept:

Then-Senator Rocky Blare of Ideal expressed a similar reservation as Soholt and asked how tenuous the agreement with Jackley was.

Rusch answered, “If there’s any real major changes in this, I think that our deal will go away. Now I guess it’s always hard to define exactly what’s major changes, but we worked long and hard on both the language of the apology and the language of the admonition. So I don’t think that there’s much inclination on their part to detour from that very much” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].

Senator Phil Jensen, who originally raised the complaint about Langer’s drunkenness on duty, raised the prickly issue of Lieutenant Governor Rhoden’s own participation in the drunken revelry at Korgman’s house. Senator Bolin shut that dangerous talk down quickly:

Jensen spoke up again as the call neared the end. “I believe that the Senate is making a huge mistake by stacking the committee is my comment. And my question is: Has the governor had anything to say about
the lieutenant governor’s involvement at the party house the morning of the 31st?”

Replied Bolin, “Senator Jensen, I don’t know anything about that. And I — I know nothing about that. I don’t know anything about that. So –“

Jensen asked, “Do any members?”

Bolin continued, “…thank you — thank you for, I guess, your involvement” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].

Langer, who had filed to seek reëlection, withdrew her name from the ballot three months later. Greenfield returned to the Senate unopposed in District 2 and now is running for Commissioner of School and Public Lands. Rhoden is running alongside Governor Kristi Noem for reëlection. Rusch is not running for Legislature (though he and his wife Lana will be precinct committeepeople at convention), but Bolin is fighting for his primary seat against primary challenger and former legislator Nancy Rasmussen. And Jackley, of course, is Governor Noem’s choice to replace killer Jason Ravnsborg as Attorney General.

That the Republican caucus holds secret meetings and pre-arranges votes and actions shouldn’t surprise any observers of Pierre politics. But it is immensely surprising that a transcript of such a secret meeting exists, let alone falls into the hands of Pierre’s most experienced reporter a month before the Republican primary and the Republican convention. A document like this doesn’t just fall out of someone’s briefcase. Two years after an incident that got neatly swept under the rug by the usual Republican rigging, someone inside the SDGOP apparently wants to kick that dust up again. To get a sense of who might have leaked this transcript and why, let’s watch which candidates try making hay out of this evidence of Republicans rigging the Legislative process to protect their naughty leaders.

32 Comments

  1. grudznick 2022-05-16

    So you figure that Mr. Jensen fellow is trying to sour the curd, Mr. H?

  2. Eve Fisher 2022-05-16

    Someone’s getting sick of business as usual in Pierre.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-16

    Grudz, Jensen doesn’t make my top tier of possible sources for this leak. His District 33 House primary challengers aren’t players in this drama. Could Jensen still be grinding an ax for Greenfield and thus releasing this transcript now to muddy the Commissioner for School and Public Lands race?

    If Greenfield is the target of the leak, I’d be more inclined to ascribe the leak to Jordan Youngberg, who was a Senator in 2020. Youngberg was one of three Senators who backed Jensen’s effort to appeal Rhoden’s refusal to consider Jensen’s March 31 motion to investigate Langer for drunkenness (the other two backing Jensen were Jeff Monroe and Ernie Otten). Jensen suggested during the secret caucus call that the caucus appoint Youngberg to the interim committee to give it more of a gloss of legitimacy, and Youngberg offered to serve, but the caucus picked Maggie Sutton instead. Youngberg is running against Greenfield for the CSPL nomination. Neither Youngberg nor Greenfield has been making much noise about their campaigns since their very early announcements for the job back in February 2021. Youngberg spent $6,400 of mostly his own money on his candidacy last year, but a Black Hills Pioneer blurb on the Lawrence County GOP dinner a couple weeks ago mentioned only Greenfield, not Youngberg, as CSPL candidate.

    Greenfield reported spending $8,200 on his CSPL campaign in 2021. Most of that money came from himself, his mom, and his dad.

  4. Nix 2022-05-16

    Gary Cammack might shed some light on this if he wasn’t passed out.

  5. bearcreekbat 2022-05-16

    In reviewing the link with the motion to form this committee I saw that the committee was appointed to “investigate” and directed to act in accordance with

    Interim committees Rules of Procedure #20 and shall follow the processes and procedures found in Chapter 8 of the Senate Rules from the 2020 legislative session

    I was unable to find links to either of Rule #20 or chapter 8. Can anyone provide a link to these rules?

    Since the actual committee was only expressly directed “to investigate” the circumstances, rather than to make a “recommendation” or “final decision,” it may be that, absent some additional authority or directions from these rules, the committee’s action in reporting the drinking Senators’ apology was within the scope of the committee’s duties. I didn’t notice any refeence in this story that the committee failed to disclose any particular investigatory findings in an investigative report. Did I miss something?

    And to paint Jackley as a co-conspirator in this case seems beyond pale. If I understand the facts correctly he was acting as the attorney representing the drinking Senators not the Senate. This would normally mean that Jackley had the legal duty to assist his clients in seeking whatever lawful goals they might have had, such as trying to get the Senate to minimize any potential sanctions for their drunken behavior. I am not a big Jackley fan, but he certainly deserves to be treated fairly in reports about his client representation. Advocating for and seeking some sort of favorable settlement or other resolution for a client in trouble is part and partial of any attorney’s duties, not the act of a “co-conspirator.”

  6. Donald Pay 2022-05-16

    Inebriated legislating is the least of the problems in Pierre. By that, I mean that it happens with a few legislators a few times every session. Not a big deal. What is far, far worse is what is exhibited in these secret meetings, where the fix is made and the public is shut out. That happens every day, several times a day during session. It’s interesting that the legislators seem to think they could fix this largely “image” problem with their far worse systemic secrecy problem.

    I understand the image issue, but, really, buzzed legislating ain’t a big problem. The problem is more legislating for the special interests, and not for the people. The problem is taking bill mill bills from ALEC and other crackpot outfits and passing them. But here we have all these high powered legislators and attorneys dealing with an image problem by creating an elaborate subterfuge to sweep the image of a couple drunks under the rug. It’s a waste of time, but it’s also a dishonest attempt to schmooze over the public.

    What I can’t understand is why they can’t just conduct an honest inquiry in the open, have the drunks apologize in the open, vote on an appropriate penalty in the open. Who cares what the drunks and their sleazy law-yer says they will “accept?” Just do your effing job in an open and honest manner.

  7. Richard Schriever 2022-05-16

    I believe Bolin is the target.

  8. bearcreekbat 2022-05-16

    It appears that the real story is the leak of the Republican caucus discussions and agreements. As Cory pointed out:

    That the Republican caucus holds secret meetings and pre-arranges votes and actions shouldn’t surprise any observers of Pierre politics.

    This is because Republican caucus’ are closed to the public and have been as long as I can recall (which is quite a few years).

  9. bearcreekbat 2022-05-16

    Cory, thanks for the link to the rules, they are helpful. As I guessed, under Rule S8-7 it appears the committee is only authorized to make a recommendation to resolve the issue rather than a final decision.

    To the extent Republican committee appointees promised in caucus to make a particular recommendation ahead of time, with no investigation, that would seem to raise a question whether such a promise constitutes acting “impartially,” as required by the Rule S8-3 sworn oath.

    Otherwise, it would be reasonable for the committee to conduct whatever investigation that seemed appropriate before deciding to set the matter down for a hearing under S8-4 or, if deemed appropriate after investigating, simply agree to make a particular recommendation, without holding a hearing, that is acceptable to “the member who [would otherwise be] the subject of the hearing.”

    Avoiding a full hearing, adversary or otherwise, can be a legitimate objective that saves both the subject of the investigation and the State time, money and uncertainty, although doing so only to avoid “embarassment” to a political party seems highly suspect.

  10. Bob Newland 2022-05-16

    As Daniel Ellsberg intoned eloquently on NPR a couple of days ago: “Leaks are the most important element in keeping government to the will and benefit of the people.”

  11. Mark Anderson 2022-05-16

    They might do better legislation at the St. Charles.

  12. mike from iowa 2022-05-16

    Oversight is magat kryptonite. Has been for as long as I have posted here.

  13. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-16

    Well…Donald is correct, happens every year, and not much new here. Let’a review the allegations: Last day of the session, with an adjournment before an evening session to wrap things up. Dean Krogman, an experienced and effective lobbyist invites EVERYONE in both houses over to his place for a few cocktails in appreciation of the Senators and Representatives close attention to the vital legislation he has supported for his clients. Sort of a “come on over to my place and we’ll drink up all the booze I’ve bought since session began. Forget dinner..I’ll have some pizza delivered.”Most of those attending are up to the challenge, but a few lightweights like Langer and Greenfield also tag along. They expect to sip a glass of white wine but when they get to the party are carried away by the “West River elbow bending” and the congenial atmosphere. Lt. Governor Rhoden gouges out a large hole in a quart of Wild Turkey but can still sit straight in the saddle. Just about everybody gets real wet. Langer and Greenfield knock 60 points off their IQ, and everyone returns to the Capitol for some last day legislating.

    What’s the Problem???

    Well…they are joined by the non attendees at Krogman’s party, the professional, Christian Judgementalists, just fresh from a quick reading of Leviticus to hone their legislative wits. They take one look at the sodden revelers and call down the revenge of Jahovah. Party leaders swing into action and thwart the call for Rightiousness by the sober party poopers of the Party. They are successful in putting a cork in the bottle and the whole thing blows over…as it should. Greenfield and Langer continue unabated with their legislative careers. It’s business as usual. Pass that bottle around!!

  14. grudznick 2022-05-16

    Mr. Greenfield is no lightweight.

    Mr. Rhoden doesn’t throw up if he drinks too much. Mr. Rhoden throws down.

  15. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-16

    Bearcreek bat: Rules are for those that like rules. This was a situation that required quick action and who better to take the reins than the former judge and the esteemed Senator from Watertown. So, Lt. Governor Rhoden seemed inattentive and distracted in the Chair. He stayed rigid and upright and kept himself from drooling. So, Ms.Ms. Langor got loud and mouthy and maybe Greenfield peed his pants and swore a little…they have been humbled and chagrined. It was a typical Republican Party party. Everybody got drunk, nobody got laid.

  16. larry kurtz 2022-05-16

    Leaky caucus could be a Zappa cut or Weird Al Yankovic tune but no—it’s testimony from Lee Schoenbeck’s first divorce.

  17. larry kurtz 2022-05-16

    Grud is usually too far off in right field to even see the balls and strikes but if Mr. Greenfield can even see his caucus without a mirror it’s probably a optical deulusion.

  18. SDBlue 2022-05-16

    You know, if employers are required to test SD citizens for weed, why can’t SD citizens require a clean BAC from our legislators before they legislate? Imo, a bunch of drunks should not have the right to tell any of us what to do. We certainly should not be paying their salary if they can’t stay sober while doing their job.

    Reminds me of the Catholic “lay ministers” I grew up with who cheated on their spouses and abused their kids during the week, then go to confession on Saturday so they can help the priest serve communion on Sunday.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

  19. John 2022-05-17

    Not surprised reading the “sham committee” included Jackley and Bolin. They are get-alongs-to-go-alongs absent an original thought since 2010.
    But the Judge’s presence surprises. Is the Judge also offering up his integrity?

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-17

    BCB, thanks for paging through the E-Board resolution and the Senate Rules to determine to what extent, if any, the GOP caucus and Jackley acted inappropriately in the discussion revealed in the leaked transcript.

    We do agree that the leakage of the caucus proceedings is a big story. Rarely do GOP legislators break their oath of caucus secrecy. I would assume that if the leaker is revealed, that leaker will be in the Stace Nelson doghouse. Learning the identity of the leaker could also help us understand what motivated the leak—i.e., who’s trying to hurt whom by revealing this information.

    The leak can only do damage if it shows someone did something wrong, and that’s the question BCB raises: what wrong, if any, was done in the effort led by Bolin, Rusch, and Jackley to pre-arrange the outcome of the interim committee’s investigation?

    The Executive Board created the Senate Interim Investigation Committee to investigate Langer’s and Greenfield’s conduct on the last day of the 2020 Session. That committee met, viewed SDPB recordings and security video from the Capitol, heard testimony from witnesses, and heard arguments from Senator Jensen and Marty Jackley. The SIIC heard Langer’s and Greenfield’s apologies and regrets. In its final report, the SIIC found that Langer and Greenfield engaged in unbecoming conduct and recommended the Senate admonish and caution Langer and Greenfield. (Say, SIIC issued that recommendation at the end of April 2020. Did the Senate ever take up that recommendation?)

    So, what did caucus do to interfere with the SIIC’s mandate?

    E-Board directed SIIC to follow the procedures prescribed by Chapter 8 of the Senate Rules. Rule S8-2 all meetings be held in the Capitol (which we’ll excuse for coronavirus) and that all meetings be open, webcast, and archived. The caucus meeting was not open, webcast, or officially archived (though I’d love to know who transcribed it!). The rules do not seem to envision a process by which the caucus could circumvent open hearings by prearranged deals with the subjects of the investigation.

    Rule S8-3, which BCB properly cites, calls on each member of the committee to swear to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties incumbent upon me”. Following an edict from caucus to vote for a pre-arranged recommendation violates that oath.

    Jackley’s involvement in prearranging the process and outcome seems more clearly wrong to me than it does to BCB. I understand that Jackley is simply representing the interests of his clients, and his clients are certainly entitled to (and, I suspect, in intellectual need of) legal representation. I suppose we could liken the Bolin-Rusch-Jackley conversations and the caucus talk and action as working out a plea bargain. But the SIIC did not play or portray their process as a plea bargain. If the analogy to a plea bargain were correct, then the SIIC would have said so: “Instead of submitting to a full investigation, the defendants have agreed to plea guilty to unbecoming conduct; we thus recommend admonition and caution and close this hearing.” Instead SIIC pretended to conduct the complete and impartial “trial” prescribed by the Senate rules and issue its recommendation as a result of that hearing, not of the preceding caucus arrangement. They pretended that the hearing mattered. Jackley did not arrange a plea deal for his clients. Jackley did not participate in simple discussion of procedure for the hearings. He didn’t come to the hearing and represent his clients in a fair and open fight; he conspired with the party insiders to avoid a fair and open fight and rig the results.

    E-Board called for an investigation. Bolin, Rusch, Jackley, and the caucus delivered a sham hearing.

  21. Donald Pay 2022-05-17

    Arlo is funny. He kind of sums it all up. However, I think the problem is the secret meetings, not the drinking. That two legislators over-imbibed at the Krogman party created an image problem, but didn’t mean anything as far as the outcome of legislation. Whether the obvious drunks were called out by the Krisitan Nationalist faction or not, just deal with it out in the open. I don’t think these secret meetings show leadership. I think they show a stunniing lack of leadership.

  22. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-17

    Donald..thanks for the compliment. The funniest line I ever heard in Pierre came from one of the old Lions of the Republican leadership, George Shannard of the Elevator and Coyote Feeds family who was a leader in the House (or Senate, I forget)was the author….I cadged a ticket to the Annual Party put on by the Wholesale Liquor Distributors of South Dakota at the Kings Inn toward the end of the session…it was a full bore worship of Baccus..free booze and all you could drink and of course it brought out full representation by both parties and assorted hangers on. I overheard two reporters in a sociable conversation with Shannard about some of the positions the Party had taken during the session, and George, who was well into the evening and more than a bit overserved, kept repeating the phrase “the Christian Heritage of South Dakota”…well George was too cynical to believe much of anything and the reporters knew it. Finally, a frustrated reporter said, “Come on, George, next you’ll say the Jews killed Jesus.” George pulled himself to his full height, cocked his head and said, Well…yes they did. But they’d been drinking.”

  23. Jordan Youngberg 2022-05-17

    If I have something to say I say it to the person not behind their backs or to the media. You can take that to the bank.

  24. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-18

    Thanks for checking in, Jordan. I don’t know if that declaration of principle answers any question here. The Republican Senator who leaked this transcript (and it has to be a Senator, right, since no one else would have been on the call?) wanted to say something to the public. The way to say something to the public is through the media.

    We could generously interpret this leak as a sign that some Republican Senator had no other motive than to inform the public about how this matter of discipline was handled by the Republican caucus. Jordan, do you think the Republican Senate caucus’s discussion and decision-making process is a matter of public interest?

  25. M 2022-05-18

    All this bull crap and I can’t even take a toke without committing a felony. Like Abbie Hoffman wrote over 50 years ago, F the System.

  26. bearcreekbat 2022-05-18

    Thanks for your additional analysis Cory.

    As to your assessment of Jackley’s conduct I note that today’s RC Journal (5-18-22) reports that the leaked transcript indicated Judge Rusch “likened the agreement to two parties in a criminal or civil case working a negotiation before it goes to trial.”

    I have a lot of respect for Judge Rusch and in this specific situation tend to agree with his assessment. Thus, the reported facts in this case suggest that Jackley merely acted as a legal representative advancing the interests of his clients (the drunks) rather than representing the interests of the Republican party (cover up and soft soap). Jackley efforts to to convince Republicans that accepting his clients’ position would be beneficial to the Republican adversary were simply part of an ethical lawyer’s tool kit

  27. bearcreekbat 2022-05-18

    To clarify I meant to say “I have a lot of respect for Judge Rusch and in this specific situation tend to agree with his assessment” as it pertains to Jackley’s conduct.

    I agree with Cory that the actions of the Republican party did seem to create a sham committee that did not comply with the rules. I can only characterize those actions as the same type of “bad faith” that currently infects so much of Trumpist Republican propaganda and outright lying. The committee had the obligation to view this matter openly and make a judgment only after conducting the required investigation not beforehand.

  28. Dicta 2022-05-18

    Glad to know that Mr. Youngberg is confident enough in his office to openly advocate for less transparency in government affairs, particularly when that same government has been absolutely inundated with scandals.

  29. mike from iowa 2022-05-18

    Looks like 2 parties negotiated as 1.

  30. grudznick 2022-05-21

    It was not the first time a few tipped back a few at Mr. Krogman’s house, and it won’t be the last, so everyone should just mellow out on this non-issue.

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