SD impeachment committee subpoenas AG's staff, prosecutors

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FILE - South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, joined by a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Sept. 9, 2019. On Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem pressured House lawmakers weighing impeachment charges against Ravnsborg to release investigative files on his 2020 fatal car crash. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota House committee weighing impeachment charges against the state’s attorney general moved Monday to answer lawmakers' remaining questions by issuing subpoenas for two key figures in the attorney general’s office as well as the two prosecutors who charged him for his 2020 fatal car crash.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, the Republican leading the committee, said lawmakers would not meet again until late next month, but cast their latest actions as the last pieces to the House investigation. The committee has been tasked with recommending whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican first elected in 2018, should face impeachment charges for his conduct surrounding the crash. He struck and killed a man walking near the shoulder of a highway in September of 2020.

“We’re basically just trying to wrap it up, touch all the bases and this is where we think that we still have questions,” Gosch said.

After meeting in a closed-door meeting for over two hours, the House committee also moved to allow access to the crash investigation files to other House members and requested that law enforcement outside of South Dakota investigate a potentially-illegal telemarketing campaign that last week pressured them to bring impeachment charges.

The committee wants to hear testimony from Ravnsborg's chief of staff, Tim Bormann, who was with Ravnsborg the morning after the crash when he discovered the body of the man he killed. Ravnsborg first reported the night-time crash as a collision with an animal and has insisted he did not realize he killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever until discovering his body when he returned to the scene the next day.

The House committee also subpoenaed David Natvig, who directs the Division of Criminal Investigation under Ravnsborg, as well as the prosecutors who charged Ravnsborg with three misdemeanors, Hyde County deputy state's attorney Emily Sovell and Beadle County state's attorney Michael Moore.

Ravnsborg in August pleaded no contest to two of the misdemeanors in exchange for prosecutors dropping the third charge.

Gosch said the committee would publicly release unredacted parts of the crash investigation files before the committee issues its final report, but gave no timeline on when he would do that.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also want to find out who was behind a telemarketing campaign that last week tried to pressure them to move forward with impeachment, but they will hand that work off to criminal investigators. They asked that Ravnsborg recuse himself from the investigation and that it be handed to a law enforcement agency either run by the federal government or in another state.

“There’s some serious implications,” Gosch said, asserting that the calls lacked proper disclosures of who was funding them. “So state laws, federal laws that have been violated here. And if these are criminal charges, that’s not really our purview.”

Lawmakers' suspicions were piqued by a voicemail recording that Gosch said was left on a member of the committee's phone and picked up audio from a supervisor at the Ohio call center.

Angel Kane, who owns and operates the call center called Grand Solutions, Inc., can be heard on the recording saying, “The governor's actually involved in this so that's why it's more specific."

A spokesman for Kane, Jonathan Petrea, acknowledged that it was Kane's voice on the recording, but said that Gov. Kristi Noem did not hire the call center, adding that “No politician, no political party, no campaign was part of the funding of the operation.”

He claimed Kane was using a motivational technique and pointed out that Kane had not used any pronouns in referring to the governor involved. But he declined to say who hired Kane's company, citing the privacy of his client.

Both Noem and her campaign manager have said they had no involvement in the telemarketing campaign.

Noem, a Republican, has followed the committee's work closely and sharply rebuked lawmakers who delved into questioning the work of the law enforcement agencies that investigated the crash.

She has said she is pushing for justice in the episode, which left criminal investigators doubting Ravnsborg's account of the crash and Noem's Secretary of Public Safety publicly disagreeing with the prosecutors' decision not to file manslaughter charges. However, if Ravnsborg leaves office, Noem would also get to name his replacement.