I’m watching the Senate impeachment trial of killer and suspended Attorney General on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Senate President Larry Rhoden has just called a 15-minute recess following the opening statements. Here’s what we’ve heard so far:
- Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy led off with a strong summary of the evidence supporting the two articles of impeachment: that Ravnsborg caused the death of Joseph Boever and then abused his office and lied to law enforcement about what happened. Co-prosecutor and Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo did not speak.
- The defense opened with testimony from Washington DC lawyer and Tulane instructor Ross Garber, who spoke not about the details of Ravnsborg’s case but about the rare occurrences of impeachment in other states and his own successful effort to defend South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford from impeachment. Opening with Garber seemed a complete political misstep: bring a Beltway lawyer to tell South Dakota Senators how their impeachment process should work? Whose brilliant idea was that?
- But start weak, finish strong: Ravnsborg’s defense attorney Michael Butler than took the podium (and keep in mind what a rare privilege it is to speak from that dais; Senators speak from the floor, not the lower podium below the Senate President’s august perch) to emphasize that:
- Jason Ravnsborg has never been found criminally culpable of causing Joe Boever’s death;
- Jason Ravnsborg cooperated fully with the investigation of his fatal car crash at every stage;
- Jason Ravnsborg offered to take a polygraph test but the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation chose curiously not to administer one;
- Jason Ravnsborg may have been mistaken, but he did not lie to police;
- The House impeachment investigation committee concluded that undue influence had been exerted to secure impeachment by robocalls, billboards, and Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price. Butler did not name the Governor in this campaign of undue influence. To the Senate, Butler said, “I trust that the line has been drawn and that will not occur here”;
- The public may have all sorts of opinions, but they “may not understand what impeachment entails… they are not fully informed…” and the Senate should make its decision about Ravsnborg’s fate based on the evidence and the legal standards presented in this trial.