The non-political, political tenure of Brendan Johnson in the office of US Attorney

I’d predicted it a while ago, and noted it again earlier tonight. Except tonight the dam broke loose.

The second and remaining member of the Johnson family in the public eye is going to be resigning and opening a law office in Sioux Falls, according to sources this evening.  United States Attorney Brendan Johnson, son of retired Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is said to be making an announcement of opening a law office in the Sioux Falls area.

From the onset when South Dakota’s US Attorney applied for the job, his tenure in the non-political job was marked with loads of political controversy, much of it over his relationship with his father, the US Senator.

At the time of his application, the Senior Johnson noted to the state media that he would be seeking no special favors in article in the application of his son for the job. However as recounted in a 2009 article from the political website/magazine Politico:

When Brendan Johnson, a 34-year-old Sioux Falls lawyer, applied for the post of U.S. attorney for South Dakota last January, he made one thing clear to a local paper: His father, Sen. Tim Johnson, would have nothing to do with his seeking the job. “My father said, ‘Don’t consult me. Don’t update me. I’m not going to be involved in the process,’” he said.

The elder Johnson made the same promise.

But last week, when Brendan Johnson’s nomination unexpectedly ran into problems, the senator and his aides began a behind-the-scenes effort to find out what happened. The South Dakota Democrat contacted both Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to figure out what the delay was.

After a brief period when it looked like the son’s nomination could be put off, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take it up Thursday.

Sen. Johnson’s office confirmed that the lawmaker “did ask Leahy about the status of the nomination” but said he did not originally push his son as a candidate for the post with the White House. Brendan Johnson, though, was the only person to submit an application for the job.

Read that here.

The appearance of favoritism dogged the younger Johnson through much of his tenure with the Department of Justice.  And as the elder Johnson was making overtures to take a step back, the old 2009 allegations came up again in 2013, as a group of nine lawmakers, including State Senator Dan Lederman sent a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee as recounted by former Argus Reporter David Montgomery:

…as speculation mounts about if and when Johnson will declare his candidacy, a group of Republican state legislators are reviving some 2009 accusations concerning Johnson’s ties to his father.

State Sen. Dan Lederman and 9 other lawmakers have sent an official letter to the Senate ethics committee, requesting an investigation into possible impropriety collected to Johnson’s 2009 nomination as U.S. Attorney.

The letter rehashes accusations made at the time, that Tim Johnson had improperly influenced the nomination and confirmation of his son. Tim Johnson has denied the claims.

Lederman denied that the letter had anything to do with the rumors that Johnson will run for Senate, but the letter does return the issue to the public eye as political watchers wait to see what Johnson will do.

“This is about getting the right answers, and having the people in charge of this to do their job,” Lederman said.


Read that here.

As originally noted here at the SDWC, the letter was signed by Senator Lederman, Senator Mark Kirkeby, Senator Phil Jensen, Senator Dave Omdahl, Senator Bruce Rampelberg, Representative Don Kopp, Representative Charlie Hoffman, Representative Jim Stalzer,  Representative Jenna Haggar and Representative Don Haggar.

Much of this was posturing may have been driven by the possibility that the younger Johnson was a strong possibility to enter the race for US Senate to replace his retiring father.  As after US Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid had allegedly met with the Senior Johnson to push for Brendan to wait to run for the office, in deference to Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, many of the accusations of nepotism dropped to a low simmer in Republican circles.

Of course, as we all know, Rick Weiland scuttled even those plans, leaving Democrats with himself, a third tier candidate.

Brendan Johnson continued to be a name thrown about in partisan politics in the 2014 US Senate Race, especially when it came to his office’s investigation of the EB-5 Immigration visa matter, as noted by the SDGOP as recently as October:

Democrats Condone Silence By Partisan Democrat
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson

Hunhof’s “forum” is a partisan sham, cover-up for Brendan Johnson

Sioux Falls, SD – South Dakota Democrats continue to ignore the refusal by President Obama’s handpicked U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, Brendan Johnson, to speak on the end of investigations into the federal EB-5 program.

“Representative Hunhof’s ‘forum’ is a partisan sham,” said Dick Wadhams, spokesman for the South Dakota Republican Party. “Hunhof conveniently ignores the fact that the only public official who refuses to speak on EB-5 is partisan Democratic U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson who refuses to tell the people of South Dakota the truth, that there is no ongoing investigation of the federal EB-5 program.”

“By his silence, Brendan Johnson is lying about EB-5,” Wadhams said. “Brendan Johnson is using his federal office for partisan political purposes by refusing to speak.”

Read that press release from the SDGOP here.

And despite continued calls for him to press charges or clear Mike Rounds from the often wild-eyed accusations in the matter, Johnson continued his silence in the investigation.

With the impending end of his tenure with the office, this places the younger Johnson back into the field as a political player… albeit at a time when Democrats are arguably at some of their poorest numbers of voters, number of elected officials in 50 years or more, and a decimated bench of candidates in the wings.   And it only gets worse from there.

2016 could provide an opening for him, but that would give him 9 months or less in his new position supposedly being announced tomorrow. With the law change set to happen, any petitioning would begin in December.

Not to mention the fact that in 2016 he’d be a new candidate either taking on the experienced US Senate Candidate with $10 million in the bank, or the experienced Congressional candidate with $1 million in the bank.

More conventional wisdom would have the younger Johnson spending some time to establish himself at his new private sector position, as Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has. And possibly waiting until Democratic fortunes are slightly more favorable, such as with open seats in 2018, especially if Noem runs for Governor, vacating her House seat.

But that’s just speculation. A specialty of ours. What we do know is that tomorrow will likely mark the end of the non-political, political tenure of Brendan Johnson in the office of US Attorney.

45 thoughts on “The non-political, political tenure of Brendan Johnson in the office of US Attorney”

  1. I appreciate your work Pat, letting us know what’s happening, refreshing our memories of what happened before and tying it together. Fewer mistakes are made when the past is remembered.

  2. I think Brendan will continue working in the private sector for a time until some of the things mentioned above will be farther back in history, but he has time, he’s still young enough to reappear in politics and I think he will. This is a smart move on his part if he still has political ambitions, and he probably does.

  3. You may have noticed I’m weary of partisanship and cheap political smears and petty obstinance rather than working with people across the aisle. My district is half and half as it relates to political parties and I don’t view them as a good half and a bad half. Honestly, anymore, the Republican half is as embarrassing at times and wrong as the Democrat half. And, both have much to offer.

    Brendan Johnson is case in point. He’s a great guy and has done great things for our state. Really we don’t want to go there with comments about favors from his father. Our party has a rich tradition in nepotism as well, and it’s ongoing. And it’s not all bad. There are polical families just like there are family businesses. We have Herseths and Johnsons and we have Mickelsons, Rounds and Daugaards. Members of these families have greater open doors and access to political opportunity than the rest of us. It is what it is.

      1. Two areas that are of interest to me are with regard to Indian Justice issues in South Dakota and Sex Trafficking.

          1. Look folks , I tried–but Hickey has NOTHING substantive to offer about why Boy Brendan has done such a good job. Nothing of substance–just good feelings.

            Another example of star-struck representative embellishing his connections?

      2. issues that john thune and kristi noem respectively have paid a lot of attention to as well. but ok.

    1. Well said Steve, and with all this accusation of Johnson “politicizing” his office all I can say is how are those throwing the criticism not doing the politicizing themselves?? Hint, look at Pat’s very next post today with the NRSC quote – 100% over-reaction and overly, unnecessarily politically-charged baseless accusations. We need more officials like you Steve who are live by the “neither is the good half or bad half” part of your constituency. Politicans now days think they only have to represent those who vote for them, as opposed to everyone in their district or state. This is the world we live in.

      1. emmett, you make a critical error when you think people who post in here are either opposed to (i) hypocrisy or (ii) idiocy.

        There is enough of both in here to choke a horse, but as long as you can take it with that understanding it becomes easier to stomach. Best of luck doing that…

    2. If the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, the country and state would do well to avoid Brendan Johnson. Look at how Obama was raised-it had a definite impact on who he is as a person.

    3. why not ask him if he wants to join you in the pay day lending limit? Now that he’s in the private sector he’s up for grabs.

  4. Nepotism in politics is when members of a family attain similar stature as their forebears without having sufficient qualifications.

    The fact there are Mickelsons and Herseths who had served before does not mean the subsequent elected leaders aren’t qualified and the accusation of nepotism is crap so don’t lecture on bring opposed to “cheap political smears.”

    While many say George T. Mickelson (M1)was a good Governor, many put George S. Mickelson (M2) in the class of great Governors.

    We praise families who have a military family heritage but for some reason we criticize families which have political family heritages. The family ethos is the same: They learn at the knees of their forebears service has merit and it is part of the family fiber. By “the Hickey” standard, it is legitimate to slur those who follow their parent in business or the clergy.

    My grandfather was active in politics his whole life even though he never ran for office. I was once told by an elder in Gettysburg (Justin Cronin’s dad) my Grandpa showed him how to be a force for good without ever holding a title. My dad talked issues every night at the dinner table. I’m pretty sure that if my family heritage were different, my involvement in politics, if at all, would be different.

    When a child follows in the footsteps of a parent, it is evidence the parent was a good example. To slur people who desire to live up to a good example is unbecoming. There are only a handful people who have as good an example as Mark Mickelson with regard to political service. If he chooses to try to live up to the Mickelson legacy, we are better for it and we should say so and not infer a negative.

    SD has very few “political families.” The Herseths, Mickelsons and maybe the Jones family (no relation) of Northeast South Dakota. The inference Tim Rounds owes his position to Mike and is otherwise unqualified (which is what nepotism means) to be a State Representative is ludicrous. Whether Mike had ever served or not, as one who grew up in Pierre, Tim had the name ID and reputation to be elected on his own. In fact, I think Tim’s “light” is dimmed because of this unfounded inference.

    Is being a Mickelson or Herseth an advantage? Only if people remember their forebears as people of good accomplishment and if they have confidence the family character lives in the progeny. But, it has a downside, if a member of the family doesn’t live up to the standard of the forebear, they have no chance to go anywhere and they find it out a lot sooner and firmer than the rest of us.

    1. “Whether Mike had ever served or not, as one who grew up in Pierre, Tim had the name ID and reputation to be elected on his own. In fact, I think Tim’s “light” is dimmed because of this unfounded inference.”

      Troy, have you met Tim? I think he does a good job of dimming his own bulb.

      1. Anon if being quick on your feet and spontaneous and able to lighten up very tense moments around upset people is dimming to you I want to stay clear of your kind of light.

        Tim Rounds is one of a kind and a great friend who would drop anything anytime to help someone in need.

        Re-read Troy’s post. He for sure nailed it!!!

    2. Troy again, you miss the mark. I’m defending family callings. The point is the smear is to write off people because we think family connections got them the job. If a similarly qualified Thune daughter was appointed our US Attorney the Dems would cry foul too and this Republican blog would defend the appointment.

      1. Steve, what smear are you talking about? Did you actually bother to read what I wrote? It’s not that terribly different from what the Argus ended up writing, except I have the luxury of being able to go into further depth.

        Or are you saying that I shouldn’t have noted the above three or four stories where political controversies and his office intersected?

      2. Steve, Troy is not here to get points. He’s here to give points. Thank goodness for his daily lessons to the minions.

    3. Troy, it is quite amusing that you redefine the term to fit today’s lesson. But then define it again later in a completely different manner using the Tim Rounds example. I expect a treatise from you explaining why you can define it one way and then the other – more pontification from you.

      Political nepotism is the same as any other nepotism – the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. Period.

  5. I’m sure one puts pressure on themselves being from a political family to live up to expectations and also being compared by others.

    When is Hickey going to switch to being a Democrat?

  6. I’m assuming he was made partner at Robins Kaplan if he is opening up a branch in Sioux Falls. Assuming this is true, and assuming it is an equity partnership, he could be earning anywhere from 1/2 a million to a million a year, if Amlaw’s PPP are accurate. He may not even be interested in running.

    1. While your point is well taken, Dicta, I don’t think money a very big factor. Brendan’s wife is a dermatologist in Sioux Falls. While I don’t have the specifics, I believe the average salary for a dermatologist is around $400K. It’s not like Brendan has to be too concerned about salary when deciding his career moves.

    2. Whaddya mean? Thune has $10 million in the bank from his corporate buddies. Who wouldn’t want that?

      1. Not sure if serious, but there is a prohibition against using excess campaign funds for personal expenses. You weren’t serious, right?

        1. It’s unfathomable to some that a portion of that $10 million Thune has sold out for could be turned to his benefit, isn’t it?


          1. Oh, as long as we are making unfalsifiable claims that have no evidentiary support whatsoever, I heard from a guy who heard from a guy that Thune is considering using the funds to support the decepticons’ takeover of earth.

            There, now we are both paranoid neckbeards.

            1. Except that you perpetuate the bizarre make-believe world that far too many Republicans live in. Unless, of course, you’re being facetious.

              1. Sorry, how exactly did I perpetuate anything? By thinking Brendan Johnson may not run because he is making a lot of money? Or that Thune might not violate federal law by using campaign funds for personal expenses?

              2. for being in a makebelieve world, the republicans seem to be winning all the elections and running that world. who’s in the make-believe world anyway? maybe american oligarch.

  7. lay off the family connection. johnson’s loud silence during the whole eb5 smear against rounds is fair game and bountifully huge in and of itself. we can bask in that for quite awhile.

    1. it’s also not bad for republicans to remember that the example the father set was more often that of a partisan shill and rubber stamp, bending in whatever fashion would best connect the national party agenda to whatever he did in the name of the state’s voters. or so it often seemed.

  8. Steve,

    It is “odd” that you claim to defend “family callings” with the word “nepotism”. As one who knows that words have specific meanings, it is hard to believe you used that word without intent.

    Nepotism isn’t a positive/complimentary word nor is it neutral. It is a negative/disparaging word by definition. It means “Favoritism granted to relatives or close friends, without regard to their merit.” And, then you specifically named specific families when you said “Our party has a rich tradition in nepotism.”

    No matter how you try to spin it, the use of the word nepotism and the Mickelsons, Herseths, Daugaards et. al. is disparaging and a “cheap political smear.”

    1. Pay no attention. Hickey’s overinflated ego and sense of moral superiority is making another appearance.

    2. Troy you aren’t even hearing me. I’m saying it’s not nepotism. Or if Republicans want to say so of Johnson, it could be said of us.

      Ego. My sense is the person who thinks I’m driven by ego simply mistakes it for confidence. They are not the same. Moral superiority. Each of us is entitled to enter the dialog from our various vantage points. That morality is an area I’m dialed in on is inherent in my vocation.

    1. 1. represented the rights, views and interests of the majority of south dakotans who elected him 2. advocated and passed numerous bipartisan bills on agriculture and commerce 3. advanced and worked for the defense of ellsworth air force base and the powder river training range 4. stood in the face of every partisan power grab the previous democrat majority in the senate would heft forth 5. advocated and passed bills to increase and support law enforcement on the reservations 6. maintains a constant readiness to hear from south dakotans and make sure their views are represented in washington dc.
      basically, thune does everything i’d want him to do and much more.

  9. Charlie,

    In a room full of people, there is one guy to target as your prey: The one who thinks he is the smartest guy in the room.

    And there is one to fear: The one you are most likely to underestimate.

    Abdnor always said, you can go through life underestimated or overestimated. The guy underestimated comes out on top most often.

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