Gov. Kristi Noem and Corey Lewandowski. (South Dakota Searchlight composite from Getty Images)
After reporting that Gov. Kristi Noem is allegedly having an extramarital affair, Ken Silverstein suffered a memory lapse.
It happened on the Dakota Town Hall podcast. The hosts wanted to know if Silverstein’s Sept. 15 story about Noem was his first about South Dakota politics.
Silverstein struggled with his answer — “I don’t think that’s possible, because I honestly feel like I’ve covered …” — until one of the hosts interrupted. The host suggested Silverstein had probably written about former Senate leader Tom Daschle and current Senate Minority Whip John Thune.
“I know I’ve written about Daschle multiple times, and I’m sure I’ve written about others,” Silverstein said. “I just honestly can’t remember. I’ve been doing this for too long. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about anything really related to South Dakota, but I know I have, with Daschle and others.”
One of those others was former Sen. Larry Pressler.
Silverstein and the late Alexander Cockburn co-authored the 1996 book “Washington Babylon.” It was described by its publisher, Verso Books, as an “exposé of Washington politics.” Three pages devoted to Pressler included a claim that he had “suddenly” gotten married “amid speculation that he was gay.”
Pressler, a Republican, lost his Senate seat that year to his Democratic challenger, Tim Johnson. Two years later, Pressler’s lawsuit against Verso ended with a settlement, according to media reports at the time. The exact financial terms were not disclosed, but Verso issued a statement expressing regret for “inaccurate and hurtful” statements about Pressler’s marriage.
A 1998 Rapid City Journal editorial called the ordeal “one of the sleaziest episodes in the history of South Dakota politics.”
Silverstein co-wrote his recent article about Noem with Laura Collins for DailyMail.com, an international website associated with a British tabloid newspaper. The article alleges that Noem is having an affair with political consultant Corey Lewandowski (Noem, through a spokesman, has denied the allegation). The claim is attributed to anonymous sources and one named source who said the pair “seemed to be dating,” based on that source’s observations of their behavior.
Silverstein and Collins are not the first to go public with the allegation. The initial report was written two years ago by Pedro Gonzalez for American Greatness, a website that says it aims to be “the leading voice of the next generation of American Conservatism.” All of the sources in the Gonzalez story were anonymous.
The only thing we know for sure is that Noem, a nationally ambitious governor, has spent a lot of time with Lewandowski, a political consultant with national connections. Noem’s spokesman has said she “never paid a dime” to Lewandowski, but South Dakota’s lackluster campaign finance system prevents us from confirming that. On state campaign finance reports, Noem and other candidates list expenses under vague headings such as “consulting,” without identifying recipients.
In the end, we don’t actually need to know whether Noem and Lewandowski are having an affair to know that their relationship is inappropriate. Lewandowski has such a long and notorious record of alleged misbehavior that no governor should associate with him for any reason.
In 1999, while working for U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, Lewandowski was arrested for entering a House office building with a loaded pistol. He said the gun was accidentally left in a bag of dirty clothes, and the charge was dropped.
In 2000, while Lewandowski was still working for Ney, the congressman became criminally involved in the infamous Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Ney did Abramoff’s bidding in exchange for trips, meals, drinks, event tickets and campaign contributions. Lewandowski wrote a letter to a judge seeking leniency for Ney, saying the disgraced congressman had “served as a mentor to me, as a surrogate father, and as a best friend all in one.”
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While serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign manager in 2016, Lewandowski allegedly grabbed a female reporter by the arm and was cited for simple battery, but prosecutors didn’t pursue the case.
In 2021, during a charity dinner Lewandowski attended with Noem in Las Vegas, he allegedly made repeated and unwanted sexual advances toward a female attendee. Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery and reached an agreement that allowed him to pay a $1,000 fine, perform 50 hours of community service and undergo impulse control training without an admission of guilt.
After that incident, Noem spokesman Ian Fury said Lewandowski would “not be advising the governor in regard to the campaign or official office.” Yet, within months, the two were once again seen together. Most recently, Lewandowski popped up in Rapid City for a political rally where Noem introduced Trump.
Why would Noem affiliate with such a person in the first place, let alone continue the affiliation after it reduces her to tabloid fodder?
Multiple reporters, including Silverstein, have now claimed an affair is the answer to that question. But those stories are based on hearsay from mostly anonymous sources.
Even worse for South Dakota, in my opinion, is another possibility: that Noem is so deeply controlled by political ambition, she’ll associate with anybody — no matter how unsavory — to get ahead.
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