PUBLIC CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS RISE TO NEW LEVEL …
S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell personally lobbied state lawmakers to switch their votes in a contested S.C. Supreme Court race – openly acknowledging his goal was to install a chief justice who would eventually clear him of public corruption charges.
Harrell is also accused of repeatedly referencing his ongoing legal plight in connection with the shameful bargain that ultimately provided his preferred justice with the votes she needed.
FITS has covered both instances of corruption previously (HERE and HERE), but discussions with dozens of lawmakers over the past few weeks have filled in disturbing details about the nature and extent of Harrell’s involvement.
More problematic for Harrell, FITS has spoken with at least six lawmakers who say they are willing to testify before a grand jury regarding the troubling lengths to which Harrell has gone in an effort to shut down any investigation of his multiple misdeeds.
“We are beyond Watergate at this point,” one of the lawmakers told FITS. “He rigged votes. To try and clear his name, he rigged votes.”
Three months ago, incumbent chief justice Jean Toal defeated challenger Costa Pleicones by a 95-74 vote margin.
According to our sources, five days before the vote was cast the margin was much closer.
“She was going to lose,” one lawmaker told FITS.
That’s when Harrell began leaning on legislators – among them S.C. Reps. Jimmy Merrill and Rita Allison.
“He was having problems keeping his committee chairmen in line,” one lawmaker familiar with the discussions told FITS. “He had to start going directly to members who have influence over certain constituencies within the chamber.”
Merrill – no friend of this website – did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment regarding his meeting with Harrell. Meanwhile Allison was not immediately available for comment.
Multiple sources tell FITS that both lawmakers were called individually into the S.C. House Sergeant-at-Arms office that Thursday – where they were “dressed down” by Harrell.
“Bobby was chewing Jimmy out,” one source said of the exchange between Harrell and Merrill, a former majority leader. “He was red-faced mad.”
What was the substance of that conversation?
“Bobby accused Jimmy of working to undermine him,” a source familiar with the exchange tells FITS. “Then Jimmy told Bobby he wouldn’t be Speaker were it not for him. They went at it for awhile. It was heated.”
Eventually, Harrell is said to have calmed down and apologized to Merrill – at which point he explained his reason for summoning him: Jean Toal.
Again, Merrill wouldn’t speak with us so we have no way of knowing specifically what was said – but we do know several people witnessed the exchange, and we know that Merrill shared details of the conversation with several of his colleagues. We also know what other lawmakers who received the same “Bobby Treatment” had to say about their conversations with the Speaker.
For example, one legislator who received an earful from the Speaker that same Thursday recalls what he and a colleague were told behind closed doors.
“He said the future of his Speakership depended on outcome of the Toal vote,” the lawmaker said flatly. “He said it was vital to him personally and to all members that the next chief justice be a friend of the body.”
“The body” is a term Representatives used to describe the S.C. House.
“I asked him ‘do you mean a friend of the body or a friend of yours, Bobby?'” the lawmaker recalls. “He smiled and said ‘you know my meaning.'”
In addition to specifically couching Toal’s reelection as a prerequisite for the preservation of his own power, Harrell allegedly went into the tactics he was employing to shut down S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s investigation.
“He said he’d gone to Alan’s friends in the body and asked them to stop (the probe) but they had failed him,” one lawmaker told us. “He singled out Rick Quinn in particular as having betrayed him.”
Quinn is the son of veteran South Carolina political consultant Richard Quinn. The duo is viewed by Harrell as spearheading the “intrigue” against him.
Lawmakers also told us Harrell repeatedly ripped Wilson during these conversations – and openly discussed his strategy for “taking Wilson out (FITS has previously reported on several components of that effort – HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).
In addition to directly lobbying members to switch their votes based on his need for self-preservation, Harrell also orchestrated a coup that landed him the support of virtually the entire S.C. Legislative Black Caucus. This is the deal that secured for him the votes needed to reelect Toal.
As we reported three months ago, Harrell joined with former minority leader Gilda Cobb-Hunter to throw a family court race in favor of S.C. Department of Social Services lawyer Tarita Dunbar – who is black. Prior to Harrell’s intervention, Greenville, S.C. attorney Katherine Tiffany – who is white (and much more experienced) – was a lock to win this seat.
Harrell sources have consistently denied having anything to do with this shady deal. In fact they blamed another Republican lawmaker for conceiving and implementing the plot – saying the Speaker never entered into any discussions with other lawmakers about the Dunbar-Tiffany vote.
Again … it’s not news that Harrell intervened in this race on Toal’s behalf. Nor is it news he was allegedly cutting deals in connection with that effort.
It is, however, BIG news that multiple lawmakers are apparently willing to testify that such conduct took place – and not only that, took place in connection with obstructing a grand jury investigation.