Radical right-wing Republican Representative Phil Jensen and his wife, candidate for District 33 Senate Janet Jensen, appear to have recorded a secret Republican Senate caucus meeting and leaked the transcript.
To understand how I come to this conclusion, let’s work through the background and the document:
Last month, intrepid Capitol reporter Bob Mercer revealed that the April 2020 hearing on Senator Kris Langer’s and Senator Brock Greenfield’s drunkenness on the job in the Capitol was really just a show trial presenting scripted apologies and admonition arranged in a secret deal between the drunk Senators’ lawyer Marty Jackley and the Republican leaders of the Senate. The show trial was arranged to protect the power of the boozy Senators and their powerful drinking buddies and minimize the scandal and its impact on the Republican Party.
Mercer substantiated this revelation with lengthy excerpts from a leaked transcript of an April 2020 Senate Republican caucus conference call. Mercer did not post the complete original transcript or say who had given him the transcript. But I have heard no Republican Senator who participated in that April 2020 caucus conference call deny the authenticity of the quotes Mercer published. Senator Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) and then-Senator, now Representative Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) have made statements that support the conclusion Mercer drew about the Senate GOP caucus’s effort to pre-arrange the outcome of the Langer/Greenfield hearing:
Bolin told The Associated Press on Monday that he had been suddenly thrown into leadership at the time and felt he was “informally” tasked with working “through the whole process.”
“I’ve never had to deal with anything like that before or in my life.”
…Republican Rep. Phil Jensen, who was in the Senate at the time and initially brought attention to Langer and Greenfield’s condition, echoed that sentiment on Monday.
“It was obvious they were stacking the jury,” he said. “It was a sham committee” [Stephen Groves, “GOP Lawmakers Steered Probe into Intoxicated State Senators,” AP, 2022.05.16].
Now right-wing blog Dakota Leader has posted what blogger Breaunna Sagdal claims is the complete original transcript of the April 2020 Senate GOP caucus conference call. If legitimate, the format and content of this transcript indicate that Phil Jensen originated this leaked transcript and alleged that Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who stifled Jensen’s original Veto Day motion for an immediate investigation of the drunken Senators, was not only present at the drunken Veto Day party at lobbyist Dean Krogman’s lodging but was involved in an arrest at the party house.
Let’s look at the evidence in the leaked transcript:
The leaked transcript is formatted like a stenographer’s recording of a court hearing or deposition. It has line numbers and a plain monospace font. It gives speakers’ names in all capital letters. It marks interruptions with double hyphens serving as em dashes. It indicates portions the transcriber could not make out as “(unintelligible)”.
But this transcript includes a formatting oddity: on page 1, we see the first comment from Senator Phil Jensen printed in bolder font than the other speakers’ words:
This bold format is repeated on pages 3 and 4, where Senator Jensen appears to twice interrupt Senator Rusch’s explanation of his and Senator Bolin’s effort to cook up a show trial to avoid harm to the Republican Party:
Senator Jensen makes similar bolded interjections—”Whatever” on p. 8, line 3; “Oh, bologna” on p. 17, line 10; “Oh, bull” on p. 40, line 2; “Yeah, bullshit” on p. 44, line 13—throughout the transcript.
Yet in other places, Senator Jensen’s comments are not bolded. See, for instance, p. 33:
…and pp. 47–48, at the very end of the caucus call:
No other lawmaker’s comments are bolded in this transcript. But one other speaker’s comments do appear in bold. Starting on page 6, the transcript presents bolded statements from J. Jensen:
J. Jensen is Janet Jensen, Phil’s wife (to whom Phil says on p. 22, in apparent agreement with the stenographer, “I can’t hear a damn word you’re saying, dear”), asking him what is going, suggesting things he should ask the caucus, and trying to help him figure out what to do:
The transcript identifies speakers wherever possible. In a couple places (e.g., p. 24) where the speaker is unknown, the transcript labels the comment with “UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER”. Nowhere does Janet Jensen identify herself the way other speakers identify themselves on the call. Nowhere does Phil mention Janet’s name. Nowhere does any other speaker acknowledge Janet’s comments or ask what the heck a lawmaker’s spouse is doing talking at a Republican Senate caucus meeting. The stenographer thus must have had information outside the text of the conversation itself to identify Janet Jensen as a speaker.
Other than Janet Jensen’s comments, the transcript includes no comments from non-members of the Senate. Unlike Janet’s comments, the rare comments from unidentified speakers are printed in normal font and flow with and receive responses from named Senators in the caucus discussion. And the transcript includes no side chatter from anyone other than the Jensens.
It thus appears the stenographer—or, more likely, the recording device that made the recording from which the stenographer created this transcript—sat next to Phil and Janet Jensen during the Republican Senate caucus conference call. The stenographer distinguished comments made in the caucus discussion from the side comments made by Phil and Janet with normal font and bold font. The stenographer marked Senator Jensen’s comments to the caucus, like all other Senators’ caucus statements, in normal font. The stenographer marked off-mike comments from Senator Jensen and his wife Janet in bold font.
In short, the format and content of the transcript indicate that Phil and Janet Jensen recorded the April 2020 caucus call and had that call transcribed. Whether the Jensens themselves or one of their political whack-a-doodle friends handed the transcript to the press, Phil Jensen (who is running for reëlection to District 33 House) and/or Janet Jensen (who is running for District 33 Senate) made this leak possible.
Phil Jensen is a logical pick for caucus leaker. Jensen has little to fear from the Schoenbeck GOP Senate leadership because he’s in the House and because he has proven his ability to be a pain in the GOP’s side and withstand multiple primary challenges backed by the GOP mainstream and the Governor in District 33. Bunkered in a safe district and with a bunker mentality to match, Jensen is well-suited to break the sacred codes of Republican secrecy when he feels such a violation suits his purposes. (Therein lies perhaps the biggest flaw in my own deduction: Jensen is so safe that he probably doesn’t need to hide behind anonymity for such a leak.)
But what are those purposes? After Mercer broke the transcript story on May 15, the only other major reporter to pick up the story was AP’s Stephen Groves. I found the story darned interesting, and now so does the new alt-right crypto–Christo–petro–fascist anti-democracy blog Dakota Leader, but the story has prompted no response from the SDGOP spin blog Dakota War College and no apparent uproar among primary voters or the general public. Maybe the purpose is just for the record. Maybe the purpose is just to provide one more example of the Republican Party’s determination to run South Dakota by star chamber… in which case we have to ask the Jensens why they remain in that star chamber instead of joining a less corrupt party.
Maybe the purpose is to try again to drag Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden into the scandal by highlighting his presence at the drunker revelry prior to the final hours of the 2020 Session. Governor Kristi Noem firmly dodged any discussion of Rhoden’s involvement. The transcript shows Jensen adding the word “arrest” to his implication that the Rhoden was involved in the booze party at Krogman’s house, but only after the caucus call ended, to his wife Janet, not to his fellow Senators. If Jensen is trying to stir controversy about the Lieutenant Governor, he could do better than simply releasing a transcript showing his personal statement that someone got arrested at the party; he could produce the arrest record.
Whatever the Jensens’ purpose, I’d suggest they need to push their document a little harder to achieve their purpose. And I’d suggest that they either go on the record as the source of the leak (statements on the record get better press), or, if they feel the need for anonymity, do a better job of cleaning up the transcript to make the source less obvious.