PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Senators began reviewing official videotapes Tuesday, trying to judge whether two top Republican lawmakers appeared to be drunk at the state Capitol, during the final early morning of South Dakota’s 2020 legislative session.
Five Republicans and four Democrats are scrutinizing what Senate Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids and Senate president pro tem Brock Greenfield of Clark said and did.
Former state Attorney General Marty Jackley represents them. Jackley objected several times Tuesday morning to Senator Art Rusch, chair of the investigation committee, challenging whether the Legislature had authority under state law and what evidence should be allowed.
Rusch, a Vermillion Republican and a retired state circuit judge, noted the objections but said the panel would proceed and see the tapes.
The panel met by remote technology and resumes Friday at 9 a.m. CT.
Senator Phil Jensen, a Rapid City Republican, brought the request for disciplinary action against only Langer around 3:30 a.m. March 31. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden ruled Jensen’s motion out of order and senators voted 26-4 in Rhoden’s favor.
The Legislature’s Executive Committee voted 12-1 one week later that the investigation should go forward.
Rusch said Tuesday the special committee would watch public-broadcasting and Highway Patrol videos from the night/early morning of March 30-31. The videos would “clearly be the best evidence” rather than spoken recollections, according to Rusch.
Jensen then can make a statement, followed by Langer and Greenfield, or their lawyer, Jackley, Rusch said.
Rusch said Jensen sent copied videos to some legislators and House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, sent a letter about the matter to some.
Rusch said those items weren’t properly submitted to the committee as evidence and shouldn’t be considered, unless the committee allows them, because the material otherwise violated Langer and Greenfield’s rights.
Jackley warned “the courts may need to get involved” if the investigation proceeded, but Rusch said the committee would go ahead.
Jackley later objected that he hadn’t received the Highway Patrol security videos. Rusch denied the objection.
After viewing the videos, Rusch received a list of witnesses who contacted the Legislative Research Council about their interest in testifying. Most of them were legislators.
“Some but not all,” Bolin said. He suggested allowing Jensen, House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, House Democratic leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, and Haugaard.
Senator Jim White, a Huron Republican, agreed with Bolin and said he didn’t want to listen to the same story. Senator Jim Stalzer, a Sioux Falls Republican, and Senator Maggie Sutton, a Sioux Falls Republican, said they didn’t want to hear the same testimony over again.
Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission said any person who had interaction with Langer or Greenfield should be allowed to tell about what they experienced.
Jackley meanwhile was writing hurriedly as Heinert made his remarks.
Heinert said he also wants answers about what happened during the five hours that the Senate wasn’t in action. “Who dropped them off at the Capitol? That’s a fair question,” Heinert said.
“They have the right to be cross-examined by Mister Jackley. That’s fair. I don’t want us to look like we weren’t willing to take this seriously or didn’t want to hear from people,” Heinert continued.
Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, said he looked at the investigation like a trial, because discovery wasn’t conducted by either side. Kennedy, a lawyer, said he would rather have Rusch rein in duplicative testimony rather than decide in advance.
Senator Red Dawn Foster, a Pine Ridge Democrat, and Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat, said it was important to hear from people who were at the Capitol that night.
Rusch said the committee would hear testimony Friday morning from Jensen, Qualm, Haugaard and Smith.
He directed that a letter be sent to the other potential witnesses — Representative Taffy Howard, a Rapid City Republican, and her husband; Representative Tony Randolph, a Rapid City Republican; and Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat — asking that they indicate in writing what they would say.
Rusch told Jackley he would have broad cross-examination leeway.
For a tweet by tweet report from the committee Tuesday, check @pierremercer on Twitter.