COLUMBIA - Attorney General Alan Wilson plans to continue an investigation into House Speaker Bobby Harrell despite a judge's order saying he cannot use a grand jury or other investigative agency to do so.
Ford hearing Wednesday
The Senate Ethics Committee meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday for a public hearing on former Sen. Robert Ford's ethics case.
The hearing is in Room 105 of the Gressette Building.
Even though Ford is no longer a member of the Senate, the committee could issue a fine, or even refer the matter for possible criminal investigation if it deems a deeper investigation is warranted.
Ford had served in the Senate almost two decades before resigning.
Wilson said in an interview with The Post and Courier late Monday that he would continue investigating Harrell, R-Charleston, while an appeal is underway.
Circuit Judge Casey Manning ruled Monday that ethics-related allegations must first be heard by a panel of lawmakers, the House Ethics Committee, before the attorney general can investigate.
"The investigation is not over, it's going forward," Wilson said in the interview. "Under the law, we're allowed to (investigate) while it's being appealed. We have other avenues we're looking into as well. (The) order doesn't really affect us. . there are other ways of pursuing truth. We're going to pursue them all."
Harrell has been accused of ethics-related violations, including using his campaign funds for personal purposes. Manning's order said that such charges must be heard by the House Ethics Committee and cannot be investigated by a state grand jury. The case was referred to the grand jury in January after a 10-month state police investigation was completed.
Harrell said in an interview that he has not been contacted by any other investigative agency. He read from Manning's order, which said that neither the grand jury "nor any other investigative agency shall take any further action" on the ethics-related allegations until the House Ethics Committee either decides on the case or refers the matter to the Attorney General.
"There is no investigation, there is no grand jury," Harrell said. "The judge asked him repeatedly, 'Tell me something that you've got.' He failed to come up with anything. He ought to release the SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) report which would answer all these questions."
Harrell later told reporters: "This has been about politics from the beginning not about the law. The attorney general's statement ... that he would defy a court order is proof that he's just playing politics. This attorney general had followed that law every time until now. You would expect the chief law enforcement officer to follow the law."
Wilson said Monday he cannot release the SLED report because the investigation continues. "If you show the people you're investigating everything you're doing while they're doing it . they try to come up with defenses, create defenses for acts before they are locked into their statements," Wilson said.
Wilson said that he was not alone in deciding to pursue the case against Harrell. "I did not make this decision by myself. I had five prosecutors, including the solicitor general. It was 100 percent unanimous what needed to happen next."
Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday she wasn't going to get involved with the case.
"I hope it doesn't affect ethics reform, but I didn't weigh in on this before, I'm not going to weigh on it now," Haley said. "We're staying very far away from that and staying very focused on our job."
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell supported Manning's decision.
"I think his decision, quite frankly, is in line with constitutional law," McConnell said.
Political and legal watchers around the state worry that Manning's ruling would make the General Assembly a protected political class if the attorney general is not allowed to pursue ethics-related criminal investigations into lawmakers. Harrell said ethics-related allegations must first be heard by the House Ethics Committee. The committee is required under the law to turn over the case to law enforcement if there is possible criminal activity.
The Post and Courier's Cynthia Roldan contributed to this report.
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