WOULD SPEAKER’S PROPOSED “PROSECUTORIAL TAKEOVER” SAVE HIS SKIN?
Embattled, scandal-scared S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell dropped a bombshell on the Palmetto State’s political landscape this week – pushing a pair of bills in his chamber to neuter South Carolina’s Attorney General.
Harrell’s bills – which would allow a majority vote of the S.C. General Assembly to strip the Attorney General of the vast majority of his prosecutorial responsibilities – represent perhaps the most brazen, corrupt and desperate assault on public integrity we’ve ever seen in this state.
And South Carolina is a cesspool of corruption, people …
Filed without warning (and with overwhelming numbers of legislative co-sponsors), Harrell’s bills would not only give the General Assembly the ability to selectively police public corruption cases across the state – but would amend the state constitution to strip the Attorney General of his role as the state’s “chief prosecutor.”
“Naked aggression,” one lawmaker told FITS. “Pure, naked aggression.”
Indeed … and from a branch of government that has shown absolutely no ability to police itself on corruption issues.
So … what’s behind this power play?
Easy: S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is currently investigating Harrell on public corruption charges, and the powerful legislative leader is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Wilson in an effort to cling to power.
In fact one ex-aide said he wanted to see Wilson’s “blood” – not to mention his “ass on a stick.”
Yeah … things have gotten testy.
But do Harrell’s bills also represent a backdoor attempt to save the Speaker’s skin?
According to the language one of the bills, H. 5072, Wilson would be stripped of his ability to prosecute public corruption cases related to “constitutional officers.” Generally, this is understood to mean elected officials who are chosen by voters every four years at the polls (i.e. Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Education, Comptroller General, etc).
But does the term “constitutional officer” also apply to Harrell? And could it potentially be used to shield him from prosecution?
“In the broadest possible sense a constitutional officer can be defined as any elected official referenced by the state constitution,” a source familiar with the issue tells FITS. “In fact there’s a 1962 Attorney General’s opinion referencing this question – one which concludes that the broadest possible definition can be applied to that term.”
The source added that “the question would probably wind up going to the courts” – a branch of government Harrell has in his back pocket after helping to engineer a legislative victory earlier this year for S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal.
In other words Harrell’s bills could conceivably give him a “get out of jail free card” – no matter what Wilson’s prosecution uncovers against him.
What does Wilson think of that?
“Due to state grand jury secrecy requirements, it is inappropriate to comment on any matter that could have an impact on state grand jury investigations,” Wilson’s office told FITS. “As a general statement, we have confidence in the deliberative process of the General Assembly, and believe that members of the House and Senate will ultimately act in the public interest.”
We don’t share that confidence … not as long as Bobby Harrell is calling the shots in the S.C. House.
Ever since Harrell’s public corruption scandal first hit (way back in September 2012), he has responded like a criminal – lying and refusing to release his records, assassinating the character of one of the reporters who investigated him and then strong-arming her newspaper into backing down (by allegedly threatening to withhold an annual bribe the paper receives from the S.C. General Assembly).
But this latest effort – an attempt to rewrite the constitution of the state – is simply over-the-top.
We would urge all S.C. House members who signed onto these bills to think long and hard about what they are doing and whether it is in the best interests of the state.