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Nikki Haley e-mail referenced DHEC

A newly released email exchange between then-state Rep. Nikki Haley and Lexington Medical Center's chief executive raises new questions about Haley's job duties for the Lexington hospital and her role in seeking state approval for its heart surgery center.

The email was contained in a second batch of hospital documents released this week in response to a public records request.

In it, Haley tells hospital CEO Mike Biediger that she could not attend a Sept. 11, 2008, hearing of the Department of Health and Environmental Control board. At that meeting, the hospital tried to convince the board to give it a "certificate of need" to open the heart surgery center.

"I will be unable to make the DHEC mtg this morning," Haley wrote to Biediger. "Please let me know how the vote goes. My fingers are crossed."

Biediger responded later: "Our amendment didn't pass this morning. I'll tell you more about it when I see you later."

Both the hospital and Haley said Thursday that Haley's interest in the meeting and the heart center's fate was as a Lexington County state representative, not as part of her job as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation.

Haley emailed Biediger on her personal email account, not her legislative account.

The hospital eventually reached an agreement to open the heart surgery center in 2010.

Haley has said previously she was careful to avoid a conflict of interest during the time that she was a part-time state representative and worked for the hospital, from August 2008 to April of 2010.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor, who was a member of Lexington Medical's board before she was hired as a fundraiser, long had supported the heart center.

"Like all of the Lexington delegation, [she] was both very supportive of and very involved in the Hospital's efforts to get a Certificate of Need," Godfrey wrote in a statement.

"She communicated often with Mike Biediger about the CoN process long before she worked at the Foundation."

Other emails support that claim, with Biediger sending updates to the entire Lexington County legislative delegation about the regulatory dispute.

"The hospital kept the lawmakers informed on developments in its efforts to secure a full cardiovascular program," Lexington Medical spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson said by e-mail.

"It was not part of Nikki Haley's job at LMC to attend DHEC meetings. The hospital never asked or told Haley to go to a DHEC meeting."

In 2006, Haley cast a vote to overturn Gov. Mark Sanford's veto of legislation that would have allowed the heart center. The override effort failed, and Sanford's veto was sustained. It was the only time the issue came before the legislature.

During the fall campaign, the Department of Health and Environment Control told The State that it had no records of Haley writing or e-mailing the agency or its employees about the heart center.

The legality of Haley's work for Lexington Medical Center has been questioned before.

In September, prominent Republican fundraiser John Rainey sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles asking him to investigate whether Haley was hired by the hospital because she was a state lawmaker.

Former U.S. Attorney John M. Barton dismissed Rainey's concerns that Haley's hiring violated federal law that bars influence peddling. Barton said that to violate the federal law would require that an elected official accept a payment in exchange for an official act.

"There's not even any smoke here, much less fire," Barton said.

While an employee of Lexington Medical Center, Haley did not cast any votes or introduce any legislation concerning the disputed heart center. The House, of which she was a member, has no direct say on the membership of the DHEC board, whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

Former Lexington County state Rep. Ted Pitts, who now works in Haley's administration, said the entire county delegation was asked by Lexington Medical to stay involved.

Pitts, like Haley a Republican, said Haley likely had little sway over the decision.

"I've never seen the legislature have any influence over DHEC."