NOOSES TIGHTENING … BUT HOW MANY WILL HANG?
Last week we reported that Hurricane Matthew had delayed an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption at the S.C. State House by roughly two weeks.
As we noted at the time, this delay meant it was “highly unlikely that any indictments (would) be handed down prior to the November election.”
In fact, we speculated that the timing of the investigation may have been pushed back into 2017.
Just because indictments aren’t expected prior to November 8 doesn’t diminish their potential political explosiveness, though. In fact there’s another political deadline that could have even more significance – depending on how many lawmakers wind up getting charged with criminal activity.
As we’ve previously pointed out, some believe this investigation – led by S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – is a political witch hunt targeting dozens of GOP lawmakers for relatively insignificant campaign finance violations. Others believe the investigation is more narrowly-defined – intended to hold several former S.C. House Republican caucus leaders accountable for allegedly self-serving behavior. Among those leaders? Former GOP majority leaders Rick Quinn and Jimmy Merrill (whose stories you can read about here and here, respectively).
The debate over the size and scope of the probe has fueled an even more acrimonious division within the House Republican caucus over how to best respond to Pascoe’s investigation. Some have argued in favor of full and immediate cooperation, while others have recommended turning over documents only when compelled to do so.
Well, they might want to get on the same page … and fast.
According to several sources close to the investigation, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents a “likely window” for indictments to be handed down in this case.
How many? Who knows …
If we’re looking at multiple indictments the timing could be disastrous for Republicans. How come? Well, the S.C. House convenes on December 6 for a two-day “organizational” session – which is when the chamber’s leaders will be elected and committee assignments will be doled out in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session, which gavels to order in January.
“Mass indictments followed by suspensions prior to the organizational session could tip the balance of power in the House to the Democrats,” one GOP consultant warned.
Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers are also paranoid that the probe is somehow tied to a super-secretive “working group” of prominent Democrats – whose rumored plotting against Republicans was exclusively uncovered by this website earlier this week.
GOP lawmakers tell us they are convinced this “working group” has times to Democratic powerbroker Dick Harpootlian, whose proximity to Pascoe was first raised by S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson during his spectacularly failed bid to short-circuit this investigation back in the spring.
Basically, Wilson wrecked his political career attempting to obstruct Pascoe’s probe – in large part because he believed Harpootlian was orchestrating it from behind the scenes.
“Alan Wilson was right,” one lawmaker told us. “I hate to say it but he was right.”
We’re not willing to go that far, but we can say this: Democrats need to be exceedingly cautious about the political optics of this investigation. We’ve said that previously, but it bears repeating.
That probe was first uncovered by this website back in September of 2014. The following month, it led to the indictment of former S.C. Speaker Bobby Harrell on six ethics charges.
As part of his plea deal, Harrell agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation – and earlier this month we reported that he (and several of his former aides) had been called to testify in conjunction with the case.
(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)