These days, lawmakers in the S.C. House of Representatives are waiting to see what, if anything, will happen in the ongoing State Grand Jury investigation into possible public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly.
“It’s like the sword of Damocles hanging over your head, and you just want it done, one way or another, to move forward,” House Speaker Tommy Pope, R-York, said last week.
Pope’s allusion refers to an ancient Greek legend in which a king puts Dionysius, with whom he is angry, at a banquet seat over which hangs a sword suspended by a single hair. The reference? Powerful people sometimes live continuously in fear.
“This is all anybody is talking about,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, last week.
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The ongoing public corruption investigation, involving the State Grand Jury with its special subpoena powers, is being overseen by special prosecutor David Pascoe.
Pascoe’s investigation has been underway for at least nine months and attracted widespread attention throughout the spring and early summer, when Attorney General Alan Wilson mounted a personal and legal attack on Pascoe to stop him from spearheading the investigation.
Wilson said he wanted to continue the investigation but with a new special prosecutor.
Pascoe took Wilson to the Supreme Court, which dealt Wilson a devastating defeat by ruling the attorney general had no authority to fire Pascoe as special prosecutor. Saying he had a conflict of interest, Wilson had appointed Pascoe as special prosecutor in 2015.
Pascoe’s investigation is believed to involve lawmakers improperly beneftting from political positions.
It’s also believed to include two of Wilson’s political associates, Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley.
Those two were mentioned in once-secret pages of a State Law Enforcement Division report Pascoe apparently is using as the basis for his investigation.
Efforts to reach Quinn and Merrill on Friday were unsuccessful.
Since the Supreme Court’s July ruling, Pascoe has made no public comments. But he did ask the House Republican Caucus to allow his State Law Enforcement Division investigators to review the Caucus’s financial records dating to 1995.
The Caucus executive committee announced Sept. 22 that it was complying and had hired an attorney, Mark Moore, a former federal prosecutor, to oversee the process.
“With all the legal wrangling that Pascoe went through, there’s a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston and a 21-year House veteran.
“The general consensus is that if there was going to be no indictment, an announcement would have already been made,” he said. “The scuttlebutt is that something is coming, but regarding whom and what, I could not tell you.”
John Crangle, who has monitored ethics violations in the General Assembly for more than 30 years, predicted last week Pascoe’s investigation will result in indictments.
“Pascoe is not fishing in a bathtub,” said Crangle, who published a book this year about Operation Lost Trust, a major bribery scandal in the General Assembly in the 1990s that resulted in the federal indictments of 18 lawmakers.
“Pascoe thinks he’s going to catch some critters, and he has got to deliver the goods,” Crangle said. “If he doesn’t, he’s going to look like a big fool, because he fought like a bobcat to keep the special prosecutor’s job. ...
“If Pascoe knew last summer that he wasn’t going to be able to indict people, he should have welcomed Wilson’s attempt to fire him and let the attorney general come up empty-handed,” Crangle said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, is drafting what he hopes will be a bipartisan ethics reform bill that will contain bans against conflicts of interests, and require disclosures of sources of income, “so we know who is paying whom.”
Finlay said, “We want to understand where peoples’ interests lie, and their sources of income,” Finlay said.
Whether there are indictments or not, the House as an institution will remain strong and not be thrown into disarray, Pope said. “Everybody is ready for it to move forward, one way or the other.”