Radical right-wing Republican Rep. Phil Jensen and his wife, District 33 Senate candidate Janet Jensen, appear to have recorded a secret Senate Republican caucus meeting and leaked the transcript.
To understand how I come to this conclusion, let’s look at the context and the document:
Last month, intrepid Capitol reporter Bob Mercer revealed that the April 2020 hearing into the drunkenness of Senator Kris Langer and Senator Brock Greenfield at work on Capitol Hill was really just a show trial featuring scripted apologies and arranged warnings in a secret deal between drunk senators’ attorney Marty Jackley and Senate Republican leaders. The show trial was staged to protect the power of drunken senators and their powerful drinking buddies and minimize the scandal and its impact on the Republican Party.
Mercer backed up this revelation with lengthy excerpts from a leaked transcript of an April 2020 Senate Republican caucus conference call. Mercer did not release the full original transcript or say who gave him the transcript. But I haven’t heard any Republican senator who participated in that April 2020 caucus conference call deny the authenticity of the quotes published by Mercer. Sen. Jim Bolin (R-16/Township) and then-Senator, now Rep. Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) have makes statements that support the conclusion drawn by Mercer on the efforts of the Senate GOP caucus to prearrange the outcome of the Langer/Greenfield hearing:
Bolin told The Associated Press on Monday that he was suddenly thrust into leadership at the time and felt he was “unofficially” tasked with working “throughout the process.”
“I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before or in my life.”
… Republican Rep. Phil Jensen, who was in the Senate at the time and who initially called attention to Langer and Greenfield’s condition, echoed that sentiment on Monday.
“It was obvious they were stacking the jury,” he said. “It was a fictitious committee” [Stephen Groves, “GOP Lawmakers Steered Probe into Intoxicated State Senators,” AP, 2022.05.16].
Now right blog dakota chief posted what blogger Breaunna Sagdal claims to be the full original transcription of the April 2020 Senate GOP Caucus Conference Call. If legitimate, the format and content of this transcript indicate that Phil Jensen is the source of this leaked transcript and alleged that Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who stifled Jensen’s original motion on veto day for an immediate investigation of drunken senators, was not only present at the drunken veto day party at lobbyist Dean Krogman’s house, but was involved in an arrest at the party house.
Let’s look at the evidence in the leaked transcript:
The leaked transcript is formatted like a stenographer recording a court hearing or deposition. It has line numbers and a simple monospaced font. It gives the names of the speakers in capital letters. It marks breaks with double hyphens that serve as em dashes. It indicates the parts that the transcriber could not distinguish as “(unintelligible)”.
But this transcript includes a formatting quirk: On page 1, we see Senator Phil Jensen’s first comment printed in bolder type than the other speakers’ words:
This bold format is repeated on pages 3 and 4, where Senator Jensen appears to twice interrupt Senator Rusch’s explanation of his and Senator Bolin’s efforts to concoct a show trial to avoid harming the Republican Party:
Senator Jensen makes similar bold interjections – “Never mind” at p. 8, line 3; “Oh, bologna” on p. 17, line 10; “Oh, bull” on p. 40, line 2; “Yeah, bullshit” on p. 44, line 13—Throughout the transcript.
Yet elsewhere, Senator Jensen’s comments are not in bold. See, for example, p. 33:
…and p. 47–48, at the very end of the caucus call:
No other legislator’s comments are in bold in this transcript. But comments from another speaker appear in bold. Beginning on page 6, the transcript features statements in bold by J. Jensen:
J. Jensen is Janet Jensen, Phil’s wife (to whom Phil says on p. 22, in apparent agreement with the stenographer, “I can’t hear a damn word you say, dear”), asking her what’s going on, suggesting things he should ask the caucus and trying to help him figure out what to do:
The transcript identifies the speakers to the extent possible. In a few places (eg, p. 24) where the speaker is unknown, the transcript labels the comment with “UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER”. Nowhere does Janet Jensen identify herself the same way other speakers identify themselves on the call. Nowhere does Phil mention Janet’s name. Nowhere does another speaker acknowledge Janet’s comments or ask what the hell a lawmaker’s spouse is doing while speaking at a Republican Senate caucus meeting. The stenographer must therefore have had information outside of the text of the conversation itself to identify Janet Jensen as the speaker.
Other than Janet Jensen’s comments, the transcript does not include any comments from non-Senate members. Unlike Janet’s comments, the rare comments from unidentified speakers are printed in normal type and follow and receive responses from named senators during the caucus discussion. And the transcript doesn’t include any chatter from anyone other than the Jensens.
So it appears that the stenographer – or, more likely, the recording device that made the recording from which the stenographer created this transcript – sat next to Phil and Janet Jensen on the caucus conference call. of the Republican Senate. The stenographer distinguished comments made during the caucus discussion from secondary comments made by Phil and Janet with normal font and bold font. The stenographer marked Senator Jensen’s caucus comments, like all other Senators’ caucus statements, in normal type. The stenographer noted the off-mic comments of Senator Jensen and his wife Janet in bold type.
In short, the format and content of the transcript indicates that Phil and Janet Jensen recorded the April 2020 caucus call and had that call transcribed. Whether the Jensens themselves or one of their wacky political friends gave the transcript to the press, Phil Jensen (who is running for re-election to the House of District 33) and/or Janet Jensen (who is running for Senate of District 33) made this leak possible.
Phil Jensen is a logical choice for caucus leakers. Jensen has little to fear from Senate Schoenbeck GOP leadership because he is in the House and because he has proven his ability to be a pain in the side of the GOP and withstand multiple primary challenges supported by the Mainstream GOP and the Governor in District 33. Confined to a safe neighborhood and with a bunker mentality to match, Jensen is well positioned to break the sacred codes of Republican secrecy when he deems such a violation suitable for his purposes. (Therein lies perhaps the biggest flaw in my own deduction: Jensen is so sure he probably doesn’t need to hide behind anonymity for such a leak.)
But what are these purposes? After Mercer broke the transcript story on May 15, the only other major reporter to pick up the story was AP’s Stephen Groves. I found the story damn interesting, and now the new one too alt-right crypto–christo–petro–fascist anti-democracy Blog dakota chiefbut the story elicited no response from the SDGOP spin blog Dakota War College and no apparent uproar among primary voters or the general public. Maybe the purpose is just for recording. Maybe the point is just to provide one more example of the Republican Party’s determination to run South Dakota by star chamber…in which case we have to ask the Jensens why they’re staying in that star chamber instead of joining a party less corrupt.
Perhaps the point is to try and embroil Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden in scandal again by emphasizing his presence during the drunken revelry before the final hours of the 2020 session. Governor Kristi Noem firmly dodged any discussion of Rhoden’s involvement. The transcript shows Jensen adding the word “arrest” to his implication that the Rhoden was involved in the booze party at Krogman’s, but only after the caucus call ended, to his wife Janet, not his fellow senators. If Jensen is trying to stir up controversy about the lieutenant governor, he might do better than just post a transcript showing his personal statement that someone was arrested at the party; he could produce the arrest report.
Whatever the Jensens’ goal, I’d say they need to push their document a little harder to achieve their goal. And I would suggest they be taped as the source of the leak (taped statements get better press), or, if they feel the need for anonymity, do a better job of cleaning up the transcript to make the source less obvious .