Lawmakers, AG to Investigate Kristi Noem's Meeting With State Employees, Daughter

South Dakota lawmakers and the state attorney general are planning to investigate a meeting that took place last year between Gov. Kristi Noem, her daughter and state employees.

The state employees present at the meeting oversaw an agency that moved to reject an application for Noem's daughter to become a certified real estate appraiser. However, the application was not denied after Noem summoned the state employee overseeing her daughter's application to her office, according to the Department of Labor and Regulation. The daughter, Kassidy Peters, reportedly obtained her certification on Nov. 25, 2020, four months later.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in South Dakota said they want to know more about what happened during the meeting. The Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee plan to discuss the issue when it meets at the end of October, said state Sen. Kyle Schoenfish.

Noem, a Republican, denounced an Associated Press report published earlier this week on the meeting as an attempt to attack her family.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Probe Coming on Noem Meeting
South Dakota Republican and Democratic legislators alike said on Sept. 29 that they want more details from Gov. Kristi Noem's administration about a meeting last year that included Noem, her daughter and state employees overseeing an agency that had moved to deny her daughter's application to become a certified real estate appraiser. Above, Noem speaks during the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 16, 2021. Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Schoenfish, a Republican, said the committee is still working out the details of how it will address the issue. Republicans, who hold super-majorities in the Legislature, will ultimately determine how far-ranging the inquiry is.

A week after Peters received her license, the state employee who directed the agency was allegedly pressured to retire by Noem's cabinet secretary. The state employee, Sherry Bren, eventually received a $200,000 payment from the state to withdraw an age-discrimination complaint and leave her job.

The governor's office declined to answer questions from the AP on what was discussed in the meeting. On Wednesday, her spokesman Ian Fury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Legislature looking into the episode. He earlier dismissed the initial report as a political attack on the governor.

"I want to know specifically in that meeting, what were the discussions?" said Democratic Rep. Linda Duba, adding that the meeting would have been "extremely intimidating" for the state employee who was overseeing Peters' application.

Republican Rep. Randy Gross, who is the vice chair of the committee, said he was refraining from any speculation on what happened but wanted to hear from Noem's administration to get "a reliable sequence of activities or events."

"I want to be accurately informed," he said.

Noem, 49, has generated speculation about a possible 2024 White House bid by forming a federal political action committee, assisting with campaigns across the country and attending many of the same events as other potential GOP hopefuls. Though Noem has said she's focused on reelection in 2022 and hasn't publicly indicated plans to run for president, she has visited the key early presidential states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and shown a willingness to jab at potential rivals.

In just her first term as governor after nearly a decade in Congress, her star has risen as she has honed a message of more freedom and less government — particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bren had limited her comments on the episode because the settlement of her age discrimination complaint includes a clause barring her from disparaging state officials.

The committee has the power to subpoena documents from state government, said Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba, but he added that whether lawmakers choose to wield that power will depend on Republican support. He said that he will also be looking into how the state government paid the $200,000 to Bren to settle her age discrimination complaint.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican, has said he is reviewing the episode. However, he has become political enemies with the governor after she called for his resignation following a car crash in which he struck and killed a man walking on a highway.

Democrats said the Government Operations and Audit Committee and the Appropriations Committee were the right place to start an inquiry but acknowledged they would need Republicans to help delve into the issue.

"I think it takes a lot of courage," Duba said. "There's a lot of concern because it doesn't pass the smell test at all."

Noem Meeting Under Investigation
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in South Dakota said they want to know more about what happened at a meeting between Gov. Kristi Noem, her daughter and state employees last year. Above, Noem speaks to attendees at the North Carolina GOP convention on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images