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#ProbeGate: The Show Goes On

“New targets?”

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Reporter John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper was at the Richland County courthouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina on Tuesday doing some digging for a story on embattled fifth circuit solicitor Dan Johnson.

That makes perfect sense.  The Johnson saga is all sorts of dramatic … and we’re told the most explosive revelations have yet to come out.

We’re also told Monk is very close to unearthing some of those explosive revelations.

Anyway, as the veteran scribe made his way through the halls of the sprawling government complex, he happened to notice Deborah Barbier – attorney for influential “Republican” consultant Richard Quinn – making her way into one of the building’s courtrooms.  His nose for news duly aroused, Monk followed Barbier into the chamber – where he stumbled upon what appears to have been a completely unadvertised hearing related to #ProbeGate, an ongoing investigation into corruption in state government that has ensnared multiple powerful elected officials in the Palmetto State.

When he left the courtroom, Monk had an exclusive scoop on the latest developments in this increasingly complicated case …

According to his story, Quinn – the embattled GOP kingmaker who until recently presided over the most powerful political empire the state of South Carolina has ever seen – has been ordered to testify before a statewide grand jury.  This month.

Quinn was originally scheduled to testify back in January – a prospect that has struck fear into the hearts of his current and former corporate and political clients (several of whom are currently in the midst of competitive elections in the Palmetto State).

In fact, one state lawmaker recently urged S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – the prosecutor in this case – to wrap up his investigation prior to the close of the filing period for partisan primary elections, arguing that voters deserved to make their choices for various offices with the full knowledge of the facts related to this case.

Pascoe declined to accommodate that request.

What sort of information does he think Quinn can provide?  It’s not clear … but he has been teasing this testimony for months.

“We’re going to find out a lot next month,” Pascoe said back in December, adding that the elder Quinn would be prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice if he failed to answer questions truthfully when called before the statewide grand jury.

So far there’s been no testimony, though … with some speculating that the Democratic prosecutor is dragging the case out in an effort to inflict maximum damage upon “Republican” candidates in the upcoming election cycle.

Once the focus of daily news headlines, it’s been several weeks since #ProbeGate has been on anyone’s radar.

A trial involving of one of the defendants in the case – S.C. senator John Courson – was scheduled for last month but ultimately delayed at the request of Courson’s counsel.  It’s not clear yet when that trial will be rescheduled.

Pascoe was to haul Quinn before the grand jury per the terms of a complicated (and some believe ill-advised) plea agreement reached four months ago with the veteran strategist and his son, former state representative Rick Quinn.  The younger Quinn resigned his post in mid-December as part of that plea agreement that included charges being dropped against his father, but according to Monk’s report Pascoe didn’t formally drop those charges until earlier this week.

Presiding over this week’s hearing was S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen – who has been involved in an acrimonious battle with Pascoe in recent months over the enforcement of the Quinn plea agreement (and specifically whether the younger Quinn should go to jail).

Pascoe wanted the younger Quinn to serve a year behind bars, but Mullen gave him probation instead.  Pascoe is appealing that sentence, arguing judicial bias on Mullen’s part.

***

For the better part of the last three years, the #ProbeGate investigation has focused on the powerful corporate and governmental interests represented by the elder Quinn – with Pascoe detailing an elaborate pay-to-play network involving both men.

In previous court hearings, Pascoe referred to Richard Quinn as the ringleader of a corrupt political organization with “tentacles” throughout state government.

“(Quinn) used legislators, groomed legislators and conspired with legislators to violate multiple state ethics acts,” Pascoe said during a court hearing last October.  “All so he could make money.  He was a very effective but illegal lobbyist.  All under the radar.”

In December, Pascoe asserted that there was “no entity more corrupt than Richard Quinn and Associates.”

The Quinns’ have argued that their conduct was within the letter of the law, and that Pascoe has targeted them for political purposes while ignoring egregious examples of corruption by other elected officials.

As we noted in a recent report on another scandal-scarred politician, there’s some truth to that contention …

According to Monk’s report, the elder Quinn’s attorney moved to quash (or invalidate) his statewide grand jury subpoena – arguing that the veteran strategist shouldn’t be compelled to testify while Pascoe was still appealing his son’s sentence.

Mullen was unswayed by that argument …

“We’re not going to quash the subpoena,” she said, according to Monk’s report.  “He is going to testify next week.”

According to the veteran reporter, Quinn’s testimony could take #ProbeGate “into new areas, where new targets await.”

So far three lawmakers – Quinn, former S.C. speaker of the House Bobby Harrell and former S.C. majority leader Jimmy Merrill – have gone down in connection with the scandal.  In addition to Courson, two former lawmakers – Tracy Edge and Jim Harrison – are awaiting trial on charges filed against them.

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