S.C. House speaker: Politics behind timing of case

S.C. Statehouse in Columbia (File photo)
The state’s attorney general confirmed he had referred a S.C. Law Enforcement Division report looking into a complaint against S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell to the State Grand Jury. (File photo)
By Andy Owens
and Chuck Crumbo
editorial@scbiznews.com
Published Jan. 14, 2014

Shortly before the opening session of the General Assembly this morning, House Speaker Bobby Harrell accused his detractors of slinging mud and again called on the S.C. attorney general to release a S.C. Law Enforcement Division report investigating him.

S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson
Harrell, a Charleston Republican, made the statements a day after S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he was referring the ethics case to the State Grand Jury.

The case is related to an investigation that looked at Harrell’s handling of campaign finance money to reimburse himself for air travel and other issues, after a complaint was filed by the S.C. Policy Council, according to a story from the organization’s online publication, The Nerve.

The complaint also asked Wilson to look into the hiring of Harrell’s brother to a state judicial screening panel, the publication said.

Wilson’s office confirmed the attorney general had referred the case to the State Grand Jury but said they couldn’t talk about the details of the decision.

“No further comment will be forthcoming from this office due to State Grand Jury secrecy requirements,” said Wilson’s Communications Director J. Mark Powell in a statement emailed last night.

Harrell said he expected the attorney general’s office to issue a release saying that the investigation was over and that “there was no factual reason to pursue it further.”

“To have that expectation and then get blindsided by the events of yesterday was more than just disappointing,” Harrell said. “I also don’t believe that it is a coincidence that this release was made on the eve of the legislative session.”

Harrell said he thought the case had been cleared up based on his talk with S.C. Law Enforcement Division officials and his willingness to cooperate in the probe.

“This decision contradicts every indication that SLED and the attorney general’s office have given us on the progress of this investigation,” Harrell said on Monday. “I have cooperated fully and voluntarily with this investigation, provided access to everything they requested and met with investigators for several interviews.”

Harrell said he believes the move was intended to inflict political damage, and he maintains that he hasn’t broken any laws.

“Nothing has changed from that standpoint. I still have not done anything wrong and fully expect that will be the ultimate outcome of this process,” he said.

Harrell called the ethics investigation a “blatant smear campaign” that has dragged on for a year now. He said if the facts of the report were made public, the investigation would have been wrapped up months ago.

That likely won’t happen until after the State Grand Jury completes its inquiry or SLED closes the case. Harrell said the inquiry had gone on for too long and “been done behind closed doors.”

“This mudslinging didn’t distract the House from having a productive session last year, and it won’t stop the House from advancing the major reforms we’re taking on this year. I’m not distracted, the House isn’t distracted. The AG needs to release the SLED report now.”

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