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Jamie Smith Says Special Prosecutor Needed for Noem Ethics Investigation; Two Republican Legislators Agree!

While Team Noem responded to the Government Accountability Board’s finding that the Governor may have engaged in misconduct and have some uppance coming by questioning the judges’ legal integrity and shouting ad ravnsborgem, the man who stands to gain most from putting Kristi in cuffs (no, not Corey Lewandowski) shows how to play a scandal just right.

Democratic candidate for governor Rep. Jamie Smith took one quick Twitter poke at the headline-making actions of South Dakota’s gun-shy ethics panel, saying simply, “Integrity matters. Our state’s highest office is not meant to be a tool ofr personal gain. We deserve better.” Then Smith slept on it and came out this morning with this clever call for Noem-appointee Attorney General Mark Vargo to recuse himself from the investigation the GAB handed back to him and appoint a special prosecutor:

Jamie Smith for Governor, press release, 2022.08.23.
Jamie Smith for Governor, press release, 2022.08.23.

Note all the good notes Smith hits with this brief statement:

  1. Smith doesn’t get bogged down in the details (which is a challenge for journalists as we write about this action; I feel compelled to delineate that the matter the GAB referred to the Attorney General is the complaint the previous A.G. punted to the GAB last year concerning Noem’s alleged use of the state plane for out-of-state campaign travel, while the other matter the GAB unclearly disposed of yesterday was the complaint about her nepotistic intervention in her daughter’s real estate appraiser application, details that bloggers and wonks love but which will put lots of regular voters to sleep); he just says the GAB found “sufficient evidence to investigate the governor for her unethical behavior.” That one sentence sounds really good in a campaign statement and sounds really bad for his opponent.
  2. Smith gently expresses his confidence in the GAB members, all retired judges, by noting their good reputations and their long, deliberate process.
  3. While the Governor makes unsupported allegations that the GAB judges broke the law, Smith holds his horses and doesn’t even accuse Noem of illegal activity; he just says the “unanimous board” concluded that “Governor Noem’s conduct is suspect enough” (oooh, suspect—such a sinister word) “to warrant serious investigation into whether or not any laws were broken” (were broken—the gentle passive, softening the repeated poke at the Governor).
  4. Smith says Vargo should step aside from this investigation without attacking Vargo himself. Smith calls Vargo “a hard-working and honest public servant.” But then Smith appeals to those exact qualities to say that he trusts Vargo to come to the same conclusion as Smith, that the Governor’s recent appointment of Vargo to the Attorney Generalship “calls into question the neutrality of his office” (not of Vargo, but of his office).

Smith’s smart call for a special prosecutor got a bipartisan boost this afternoon when Republican Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) and Republican Representative Scott Odenbach (R-31/Spearfish) seconded Smith’s motion:

“I think in order to show the people of South Dakota that we take ethical violations and complaints seriously, then it is only appropriate that the Governor appointed Attorney General in Vargo steps aside, to allow for a third party investigator to look into the ethics violations by Governor Noem,” Gosch said.

“It is only appropriate for him (Vargo) to immediately recuse himself and appoint a special counsel so that there is a continued faith and trust in the process, that you are held accountable no matter who you are,” Odenbach said in a statement [Austin Goss, “Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Ask AG Vargo to Recuse Himself from Noem Investigation,” KSFY, 2022.08.23].

Having two leading Republicans join the Democratic candidate for governor in calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the Governor’s unethical conduct moves Smith’s call past the level of mere campaign stunt to a bipartisan request for a fair investigation with no hint of a conflict of interest. Sure, Gosch and Odenbach could still be grinding an axe at Vargo for successfully prosecuting their guy Ravnsborg and at Noem for pushing that impeachment. But not every voter is scoring that closely at home; the headline for most voters will be, “Republicans and Democrats agree: special prosecutor better for investigating Noem’s ethics.”

If Gosch and Odenbach are still harboring a grudge against Vargo over impeachment, Vargo can coolly and unimpeachably snark back by appointing his spectacular impeachment trial co-counsel, Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy, to the special prosecutor position.

Alexis Tracy as special prosecutor—think about that. With Vargo, Tracy stepped into a highly charged political minefield, conducted a sharp and professional prosecution, and, without a hint of partisan bias, secured from an anxious Senate the first impeachment in South Dakota history. Who better to conduct an even more politically sensitive investigation, amidst national media scrutiny that would far exceed the idle curiosity some big papers showed in the unprecedented impeachment of South Dakota’s dopiest but deadliest attorney general, against a celebrity-seeking Governor on the edge of running for President, than the rock-solid small-town prosecutor who showed herself ready for the big time by convicting Jason Ravsnborg?

Smith is playing the call for a special prosecutor just right… and his Republican House colleagues are helping him. Hmmm… what was that Smith was saying back in February about Republicans’ willingness to work with him?

26 Comments

  1. Guy 2022-08-23

    I am deeply concerned with how Kristi Noem calls into question the decision of a state-appointed board that the state vested authority in to investigate government misconduct. It appears that by calling the Government Accountability Board’s decision “illegal” in her own official statements released today, she appears to be UNDERMINING the legitimacy of this state-appointed board. This is deeply concerning me in our state of South Dakota that is supposed to be part of a democratic republic.

  2. Guy 2022-08-23

    In past investigations, Kristi Noem has remained silent until the investigation has concluded. This investigation by the Government Accountability Board has NOT completely concluded and here is Kristi attacking the GAB and outright saying their decision was “illegal”? That sounds to me to be the actions of UNDERMINING an investigation by calling into question the legitimacy of the GAB’s decision and making it public before the investigation into her misconduct has even concluded.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-23

    It’s straight-up Trumpism, Guy. Accuse the folks questioning you of your sins, give the faithful an easy lie on which to hang their hats.

  4. Richard Schriever 2022-08-23

    Vargo should as the attorney General of North Dakota – or Minnesota to do the investigation. Much aligned with the ND DCI investigating Ravnsborg.

  5. Guy 2022-08-23

    Cory: “It’s straight-up Trumpism, Guy. Accuse the folks questioning you of your sins, give the faithful an easy lie on which to hang their hats.” Yep, dangerous to the foundations of our democratic-republic. Once a politician erodes and undermines the foundations of our institutions, they sadly fall and then what do we have left?

  6. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-23

    You are correct, Guy, undermining is the right word to describe the Governor’s tantrum, apparently written by that noted legal scholar, Ian Fury. The unanimous decision by retired Judges Lori Wilbur (acting as Chair), Gene Kean, David Gienapp, and retired Chief Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court Gilbertson, which the Governor labeled “illegal” in her release, was written after 11 months of careful deliberation. The Ethic Board reserved the right to reopen the investigation of the Sherry Bren-Kassidy Peters affair if additional evidence surfaces. They believe much of the case has become moot. They passed the “Use of the State Plane for the self aggrandizement of the Governor” to the Attorney General for prosecution.(Which seems to indicate that if the four judges had the power, they would prosecute.) All the Governor can do is double down and keep moving.

  7. DaveFN 2022-08-23

    Why such recusal wouldn’t be pro forma and voluntary in South Dakota without having to be called for speaks loudly about South Dakota.

  8. DaveFN 2022-08-23

    “….abstain from all appearance of evil….”

  9. grudznick 2022-08-23

    So, what this tells grudznick is:

    1 opportunistic libbie = 2 fringe crazies

  10. Kurt Evans 2022-08-23

    Cory writes:

    Sure, Gosch and Odenbach could still be grinding an axe at Vargo for successfully prosecuting their guy Ravnsborg and at Noem for pushing that impeachment.

    Representative Odenbach has said publicly that he believes Governor Noem was involved with the billboard attacking him and other Jason Ravnsborg supporters in the legislature, and the governor’s false accusations against Speaker Gosch probably cost him his senate primary.

    “grudznick” writes:

    1 opportunistic libbie = 2 fringe crazies

    Speaker Gosch and Representative Odenbach may be the state’s sanest legislators.

    Why would Governor Noem say the collision on the extreme right side of Jason Ravnsborg’s car roughly a foot from the edge of the pavement didn’t angle it into the ditch?

    Why would she say the amputation of Joe Boever’s leg didn’t leave any blood on the top of the car?

    How would she say someone knew to add Representative Odenbach to the billboard before his involvement with the investigation became public?

    Did she ask Joe Desilets to resign?

    Respect to Austin Goss.

  11. DaveFN 2022-08-24

    I’ll make it all the more explicit:

    That the AG doesn’t/didn’t voluntarily offer to recuse himself is as much if not more a reflection on the AG himself as it is on his office.

  12. Nick Nemec 2022-08-24

    Give the Boever stuff a rest Kurt. Your unsupported theory isn’t going to bring back either Ravnsborg or Boever.

    Does state law have provisions for the appointment of a special prosecutor?

    I’m sure this will be handled in the most South Dakota way possible. I will begin preparing the wet noodle for the ritualistic flogging.

  13. P. Aitch 2022-08-24

    Ex-pats like Jamie Smith.
    Make South Dakota Nice Again

  14. Kurt Evans 2022-08-25

    Nick Nemec writes to me:

    Your unsupported theory …

    My reconstruction of the crash is supported by, among many other things, the fact that the amputation of Joe’s leg didn’t leave any blood on the top of the car.

  15. jerry 2022-08-26

    Kurt Evans shows why mental health treatments are necessary,

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-26

    The appropriateness of a special prosecutor to review the state plane complaint is unaffected by any conspiracy theories about Jason Ravnsborg. The complaint concerns alleged corruption by Governor Kristi Noem. Mark Vargo received his appointment to Attorney General from Noem less than two months ago, while this complaint was pending. Smith’s call for a special prosecutor, seconded by Gosch and Odenbach, is reasonable.

  17. Kurt Evans 2022-08-26

    Cory writes:

    The appropriateness of a special prosecutor to review the state plane complaint is unaffected by any conspiracy theories about Jason Ravnsborg.

    I’d say a special prosecutor is especially appropriate if Governor Noem and Marty Jackley conspired to promote the preposterous claim that Jason coincidentally drove all four wheels across the rumble strip without noticing, ten feet outside the white line, at the precise location of a late-night pedestrian who, among several other very unusual actions, had taken nearly a month’s worth of the psychotropic drug lorazepam in less than 36 hours.

    That would have been a mind-bending coincidence if it had really happened. I mean, I’m normally only ten feet outside the white line once every five miles or so (/irony), and never when I’m driving past a town. What are the chances of an impoverished and acutely depressed pedestrian who just crashed his truck being at that precise location?

  18. larry kurtz 2022-08-26

    That Rep. Smith would be taken in by two legislators with as huge an intellectual deficit as Mr. Evans has should be a warning to every South Dakota voter.

  19. P. Aitch 2022-08-26

    @Kurt: You’re being obsessively compulsive again. Cory asked you politely to just stop. He’s literally the only friend you have on the playground and now you need to irritate and kick him to the curb, too? What’s your end game, Kurt? Where is this line of commentary supposed to lead? You lost but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “loser”. It’s the obsessive behavior that does.

  20. Kurt Evans 2022-08-26

    “P. Aitch” writes to me:

    Cory asked you politely to just stop.

    Cory suggested condescendingly that I need to give up on my “conspiracy theory” because no one “buys” it. I asked him politely why he’d say the collision on the extreme right side of Jason’s car, which was allegedly traveling over 60 miles per hour roughly a foot from the edge of the pavement, didn’t angle it into the ditch. He hasn’t responded.

    He’s literally the only friend you have on the playground and now you need to irritate and kick him to the curb, too?

    No he isn’t, and no I don’t.

    What’s your end game, Kurt? Where is this line of commentary supposed to lead?

    Mainly to a clear conscience.

    You lost but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a “loser”. It’s the obsessive behavior that does.

    To be painfully honest, I don’t find you very impressive either.

  21. P. Aitch 2022-08-26

    Heard …

  22. grudznick 2022-08-27

    Mr. Evans, paranoia about the 5 Gees aside, counts grudznick among his many freinds, even though grudznick knows that Mr. Vargo will find a third way out and that Mr. Ravnsborg plowed down Mr. Boever in cold blood with his inattentive driving and should be in jail.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-27

    The GAB has given the AG a complaint about the Governor’s alleged misuse of the state plane. The Governor appointed the AG less than two months ago, a rare situation in which the AG owes his position to the Governor and not the voters. That simple fact is all that is necessary to justify Smith’s, Gosch’s, and Odenbach’s call for the AG to hand the complaint to an independent prosecutor, someone a step away from the Governor’s favor and influence.

    Alexis Tracy would be a great pick for independent prosecutor.

  24. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-27

    Kurt isn’t the only person who likes using the comment section as a litterbox for his own preferred pissings-around that I have to scoop out.

    This is not a Ravnsborg post; if anything, this post emphasizes the need to get off Ravnsborg and not allow that recent impeachment to cloud our understanding of other matters of law and justice.

  25. Kurt Evans 2022-08-27

    Cory writes:

    Kurt isn’t the only person who likes using the comment section as a litterbox for his own preferred pissings-around that I have to scoop out.

    I defended Speaker Gosch and Representative Odenbach after you suggested that they could be “grinding an axe” at Mark Vargo and Governor Noem for Jason Ravnsborg’s removal from office (and after “grudznick” called them “fringe crazies”).

    I corrected Nick Nemec after he suggested that my reconstruction of the crash is unsupported.

    I argued that a special prosecutor is especially appropriate if Governor Noem and Marty Jackley conspired to have Jason removed from office by promoting a preposterous claim about the crash.

    I responded to “P. Aitch” after he directly addressed me.

    And you seem to be saying I’m like a cat urinating in a litterbox.

    In the original post above, Cory had written:

    Who better [than Alexis Tracy] to conduct an even more politically sensitive investigation, amidst national media scrutiny that would far exceed the idle curiosity some big papers showed in the unprecedented impeachment of South Dakota’s dopiest but deadliest attorney general, against a celebrity-seeking Governor on the edge of running for President, than the rock-solid small-town prosecutor who showed herself ready for the big time by convicting Jason Ravsnborg?

    Now Cory writes:

    This is not a Ravnsborg post; if anything, this post emphasizes the need to get off Ravnsborg and not allow that recent impeachment to cloud our understanding of other matters of law and justice.

    You used the very word impeachment no fewer than five times in the original post, and it seems to me that Alexis Tracy would be a lousy pick for independent prosecutor if there’s a need to avoid the “cloud” of impeachment. As you presumably know, many of us would say Vargo and Tracy were doing Governor Noem’s bidding when they misled the senate by using reckless, bombastic falsehoods to compensate for a lack of evidence.

  26. grudznick 2022-08-28

    Why not Mr. Czwach?

Comments are closed.