Seven days ago, the Government Accountability Board referred the complaint about Governor Kristi Noem’s possible personal and political misuse of the state plane back to the Attorney General’s office. Six days ago, Democratic Representative Jamie Smith, Republican Representative Scott Odenbach, and Republican Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch called on the Noem-appointed Attorney General Mark Vargo to name a special prosecutor to avoid any conflict of interest in the handling of that complaint.
But Attorney General Vargo says he can’t do anything about the complaint or a special prosecutor until GAB formally notifies him that the complaint is back in his lap:
Vargo says in an exclusive interview with KOTA Territory News, that he has not received any official statement from the GAB yet, although he expects to sometime soon.
He adds he won’t decide whether or not to recuse himself until he hears more.
”I obviously understand it’s important that my office be non-partisan, and that we avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” Vargo said [Nick Nelson, “AG Vargo Says He’s Waiting on an Official Word from GAB Before Deciding Whether or Not to Recuse Himself,” KOTA-TV, 2022.08.28].
We can’t tell from the outside who’s dragging feet on this important investigation. The Government Accountability Board shouldn’t need a whole week to get official notice of its actions to the Attorney General: at the end of last Monday’s meeting, they could have directed their assistant, Katie Mallery, to dash off an email and a fax that afternoon telling the Attorney General, “Hey, your ball!” Even if the GAB is still ordering letterhead—after all, these are the first two complaints they’ve done anything about other than quiet dismissal, so maybe they haven’t needed to send any external communications yet—the state plane complaint came from the Attorney General’s office last year. A.G. Vargo should have his impeached predecessor’s complete folder on the complaint; Vargo could be reviewing those documents now and get a pretty god picture of whether he can objectively decide the complaint or whether he needs to bring in Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy or some other suitable independent investigator.
Whether the drag is coming from one side or the other or both of this slow path to accountability, the drag needs to end. Every day of delay makes South Dakota look more like the Keystone Cops on corruption, which only gives the corrupt more aid and comfort.