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#ProbeGate: Alan Wilson’s Perception Problem

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South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson has a problem.  And we’re not just referring to the mounting speculation that the embattled statewide official is staring down the business end of an indictment in connection with #ProbeGate, a multi-jurisdictional investigation into corruption in the Palmetto State’s government.

Wilson’s allies maintain he has done nothing wrong … and they may be correct from a legal standpoint (the jury is still out on that question).

Wilson’s biggest problem, though, is one of perception … namely the widely held belief that his office attempted to obstruct this ongoing investigation, which has zeroed in on his longtime “Republican” advisor, Richard Quinn.

Quinn has yet to be charged in connection with the investigation, but he’s been named in several indictments – including those filed against his son, suspended state representative Rick Quinn.

How did Wilson land in his current sticky wicket?

To recap: Last spring, the 44-year-old West Columbia, S.C. native was among the frontrunners in the race to succeed Nikki Haley as governor of South Carolina.  At the time, many still regarded Wilson as a force for good in Palmetto politics – especially after he zealously pursued ethics charges against former S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell.

When Wilson’s allies came under the ethical microscope, though, that’s when things changed.

(To read our detailed exclusive report from February on how the “hunters became the hunted” in this story, CLICK HERE).

What happened next?  A political implosion the likes of which the Palmetto State has not seen since former governor Mark Sanford waxed incessant about the tan lines of his Argentinean “soulmate.”

Last year, S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – appointed by Wilson to lead this investigation – was preparing to convene a statewide grand jury for the purpose of handing down indictments in connection with the case.  These efforts which were supported by S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) chief Mark Keel and presiding circuit court judge Clifton Newman.

Without offering an explanation, Wilson barred Pascoe access to the grand jury.  Then he fired him – and attempted to replace him with a different prosecutor (one who declined to take the job).  Next, Wilson clumsily attempted to politicize the case – angrily (and baselessly) attacking Pascoe’s integrity without so much as a shred of evidence.

This year Wilson’s troubles have mounted.  Emails have demonstrated his close proximity to Quinn at key stages of the investigation (after the latter was named as a suspect in probe) – although in fairness to Wilson we’re not sure this particular revelation was as quite as damning as it initially appeared.

Still, Wilson has a serious perception problem as it relates to his claim about striving only to “preserve integrity of the investigation.”

If this claim is true, people simply aren’t buying it …

Last week, this website published a column in which sources alleged that Quinn (below) had authored legal opinions issued by the attorney general’s office – although to be clear none of those allegations involved Wilson’s office.   They did, however, call into question what transpired under prior attorneys general Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, who has since become the state’s 117th governor.

(Click to view)

(Via: Facebook)

Both Condon and McMaster are (or were) Quinn clients – and both stood beside Wilson during his infamous press conference attacking Pascoe last spring.  Both also had “a much closer relationship” with Quinn, or so says a well-placed staffer within the attorney general’s office – one of several knowledgable sources who recently agreed to speak with us on background in an effort to provide us with fresh perspectives on this case.

“I know Quinn and McMaster were much closer,” the source told us.

This source flatly denied the allegation that Quinn ever authored any legal opinions issued by the office, though.

“(Richard) to my knowledge has never written any attorney general opinions,” the source told us. “He couldn’t do that.  He wouldn’t know how to do that.   I do resent the allegation that Richard is authoring opinions.”

However, the source acknowledged that Quinn routinely sought to influence these opinions – as well as other official business conducted by the office.

“I didn’t like Richard’s interference,” the source said.  “I didn’t like him interfering in the business of the attorney general’s office.”

As noted in our prior coverage, several other sources confirmed this unwelcome meddling – telling us criminal prosecutors in the office and veteran attorney general staffers (like solicitor general Bob Cook) went out of their way to push back against Quinn’s interference.

Cook wasn’t the only one, we’re told.

“I try to stay away from Richard,” one top attorney general staffer told us.  “I just feel uneasy about all of that.”

However, this source quickly added that Quinn’s influence has been on the wane since Wilson took office in 2011.

“The Quinns have no influence around here anymore,” the source said.  “Alan has given (us) more independence than any other AG.”

We’re not necessarily going to to dispute that contention, but again … image is everything.  And the image seared in the public consciousness is of Wilson angrily attacking the prosecutor who was (is) investigating his longtime political Svengali.

Even Wilson’s top allies acknowledged his perception problem is real.

“I certainly see that … it certainly has that appearance,” the source told us.

Even worse, another Wilson staffer lamented last year’s press implosion as creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Everything from that moment has conformed to this narrative of obstruction,”  the source said.  “The truth is he’s rebuked Richard Quinn on some pretty important opinions – like the Catawba gaming case – but after that press conference on Pascoe the lasting impression is that he is in the tank.”

In an effort to gain one of the best possible perspectives on these matters, we have extended an invitation to Wilson to publish an unfiltered, unedited account of his version of events dating back to the beginning of this investigation – which was exclusively unearthed by this website in September of 2014.

We’ll let our readers know if he accepts …

In the meantime, we will continue to engage his allies in our coverage of #ProbeGate – which is clearly reaching a point of critical mass.

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