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Letter from Noem cabinet official rankles members of impeachment committee

Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (right) and Impeachment Special Counsel Sara Frankenstein
Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (right) and Impeachment Special Counsel Sara Frankenstein.

Members of the House impeachment inquiry are condemning a letter sent to the group criticizing its handling of the investigation into Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

The letter comes one day before the committee meets again as it wraps up its report and recommendation whether to impeach.

Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price sent a letter Wednesday to Republican Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch outlining why Price thinks Attorney General Ravnsborg is unfit for office.

Price accuses some members of the committee of not being interested in investigating Ravnsborg’s conduct related to a fatal vehicle-pedestrian accident in 2020. Rather, Price says they’re more interested in discovering why information was provided to the public.

The letter also contains revelations from the crash investigation, including a reference to text messages among Ravnsborg and some of his top employees. The letter says the messages "include disparaging and offensive statements regarding other law enforcement officers, judges, a supreme court justice, a legislator, prosecutors, staff members, a former Attorney General, and a United States Senator."

The letter also says someone who "appears to be a political consultant" texted a message to Ravnsborg after the fatal vehicle-pedestrian accident that said, "Well, at least the guy was a Democrat." That's apparently a reference to Joe Boever, who was walking alongside a highway in 2020 when he was struck and killed by Ravnsborg's car while Ravnsborg was driving.

Speaker Gosch calls the letter another attempt by the executive branch to interfere with the impeachment process.

“Why they continue to try to interject information into this investigation, try to put undo influence on a potential jury, is beyond me,” Gosch says. “It’s disgusting and it’s just a poor way to try to let the process run out.”

Gosch says the committee now has to discuss whether there’s cause for a mistrial.

The state constitution says the House is in charge of whether to impeach. If the House votes to impeach, the Senate holds a trial and decides whether to remove the impeached official from office.

Democrat Jamie Smith sits on the impeachment committee. He says the timing of the letter is unfortunate.

“Because it muddies the water,” Smith says. “It’s been done several times throughout this process where this could have been a cleaner process without people trying to meddle, I believe, in what’s going on.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety says the letter speaks for itself.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon. That's the last day of the annual legislative session, except for March 28 when lawmakers reconvene for a day to consider the governor's vetoes.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.