Bipartisan group of lawmakers ask AG Vargo to recuse himself from Noem investigation

Three South Dakota state lawmakers have come out publicly asking Attorney General Mark Vargo to recuse himself from an investigation into Gov. Kristi Noem, who appointed him to his current position in June.
The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox Sunday
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 1:01 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. - A group of bipartisan South Dakota state lawmakers are asking Attorney General Mark Vargo to recuse himself from an investigation into whether Gov. Kristi Noem misused the state airplane.

Three lawmakers, including Noem’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent Jamie Smith (D, Sioux Falls) have asked Vargo to allow for a special prosecutor to investigate Noem’s potential abuse of the state airplane, which was referred back to his office Monday by the Government Accountability Board (GAB).

“I am asking that we have a special prosecutor assigned this,” Smith said during an interview with Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory. “As honorable as the appointed Attorney General is, this puts him in a bad spot, there is going to be an impropriety because he was appointed by the current governor who is being investigated.”

Noem appointed Vargo in June after former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was impeached over his role in a fatal crash where he struck and killed a pedestrian. Both complaints that the Government Accountability Board considered were filed originally by Ravnsborg.

Smith was joined in his calls for a special prosecutor by current Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (R, Glenham) and Rep. Scott Odenbach (R, Spearfish).

“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.

In a statement issued Tuesday regarding potentially recusing himself, Vargo said that no decision had been made.

“Since the Attorney General’s Office has not yet received the official complaint from GAB, we cannot yet make a decision on the recusal issue,” the statement read.

Neither Noem’s office nor her campaign responded to a request for comment as to whether or not they believe Vargo should recuse himself. No timeline has been given as to when the investigation will be completed.