While millions of dollars disappear in the Northern Beef Packers bankruptcy and fishy EB-5 visa investment program, Attorney General Marty Jackley seems preoccupied with waging war on the press. When he conditionally granted Bob Mercer's request for a press review of the Richard Benda death investigation files, AG Jackley took a gratuitous yet unsubstantiated swipe at online journalists reporting on his dereliction of duty on the EB-5/Benda scandal.
Friday, after he canceled that media review, and after Mercer got sources to link Benda to the misappropriation of a state grant to NBP, AG Jackley went ape on the media in general. In his Friday press release, Jackley claimed that the South Dakota press is getting his part in the EB-5 story wrong:
As Attorney General, I am disappointed to have read certain Editorials relating to the state’s investigation into the $550,000 diversion of funds to the federal EB-5 program. Because it is uncharacteristic of reputable news sources to present inaccurate information to the public, I hope they take this opportunity to present accurate information to their readers [Attorney General Marty Jackley, press release, 2013.12.13].
While again failing to cite one specific instance of an inaccurate media report, AG Jackley complains about accusations that he hasn't investigated the state's use of the EB-5 program. He then repeats and enhances his argument that he can't investigate the EB-5 program:
...Although the Attorney General has no authority over a federal EB-5 program and the associated approval process of funds, it will continue to cooperate with federal authorities. As an elected official my skin is thick, but the prosecutors and investigators in this case and the public deserve better reporting from reputable news sources [Jackley, 2013.12.13].
Note the new phrase: the associated approval process of funds.
Note also that Jackley again misstates the nature of the story. He is correct that he has no authority over federal programs. But his release and the reports to which it responds deal with state Grant #1434, issued by Governor Marion Michael Rounds, to Northern Beef Packers, a private corporation. NBP was receiving millions of dollars of EB-5 money, but the authorizing agreement for Grant #1434 does not mention the EB-5 program. For Jackley to imply that he can't look into questions about state Grant #1434 because the money ultimately ended up in the hands of dudes administering the federal EB-5 program is like saying he can't investigate my stealing money out of his pocket because I used that money to bribe an IRS agent.
The press is perfectly justified in questioning the Attorney General's handling of the EB-5/Benda investigations. The press is perfectly justified in asking why the Attorney General, in six months of investigating pretty straightforward misappropriation of funds with Benda's literal fingerprints on them, not to mention the easily documentable double-billing of airplane tickets, didn't take the very obvious step of questioning Richard Benda.
And on the question of Benda's death investigation, the press is perfectly justified in saying that Jackley is making up rules and violating basic rule of law:
Moreover, Jackley is, quite literally, making up the rules as he goes. First, he refuses media inspection of a death investigation of an official involved in an FBI investigation, then agrees to allow a pool report of redacted documents, and now media access has been denied by allowing a family member to simply refuse to give written permission.
Benda’s death investigation report should be available to the media under rules that are not arbitrarily decided by public officials.
We call on the South Dakota Legislature to change state law so that investigation reports are public records that can only be sealed by a court. Making up rules on the fly, especially when a person’s death is involved, is not how civil societies are supposed to function [editorial, Rapid City Journal, 2013.12.15].
The only inaccuracies coming out of the reputable press on the Attorney General's handling of the EB-5/Benda affair are the quotations the press prints from the Attorney General's office. If the public is losing trust in the Attorney General's office, he has no one to blame but himself.