South Carolina Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell asked a judge Friday to remove SC Attorney General Alan Wilson from the state grand jury’s ethics investigation of Harrell. He says Wilson has a conflict of interest.
Harrell is being investigated for allegations of using campaign money for private travel, specifically reimbursing himself with campaign money for using his own plane for personal flights. There are also allegations that he used his position as speaker to help a pharmaceutical business he owns.
The attorney general oversees the state grand jury, which is now conducting the investigation after the State Law Enforcement Division looked into the case for months.
Harrell’s chief of staff, Brad Wright, said in court that Wilson called him into his office last year to talk about a bill that would create a new Public Integrity Unit to investigate ethics charges. Wilson supports creating the PIU while Harrell did not.
Wright said, “At one point in the meeting, he told me he had friends with deep pockets who could make this an issue if he asked them to.” Wright said he took that as a threat against Harrell if the speaker didn’t support the bill.
Harrell said after the hearing, “It was clear to me that the attorney general was saying to my chief of staff that this legislation was incredibly important to him, that I was the only thing standing in the way of it, and that he wanted my support for that legislation.”
Wilson explained in court that he asked to meet with Harrell’s chief of staff because he wanted to avoid even the appearance of impropriety of meeting with someone who was under investigation.
“There was nothing wrong, legally, with me, because my office wasn’t involved in that case. SLED had the case. The ball was in their court. I simply didn’t want to put a cloud over the case by having people see the speaker and me together. But had we been together, we could’ve gone and met and talked about the legislation all day long. There’s nothing legally prohibitive about that,” he said.
He denies making any kind of threat or mentioning having friends with deep pockets who could make it an issue if Harrell didn’t support the bill.
He also argued there would’ve been no reason for him to pressure Harrell to support the bill because it passed in the House overwhelmingly even without Harrell’s support.
Harrell called on Wilson to release SLED’s report on its investigation.
“The SLED report details all of the investigation, everything that they’ve done on this thing for over a year now, and I believe that that SLED report will tell everybody everything and the truth, and will exonerate me and get all of this behind us,” Harrell told reporters after the hearing.
There was a question at the beginning of the hearing as to whether it would be open to the public and media. Initially, Harrell had asked for a closed hearing, but Judge Casey Manning ruled that it would be open. One of Harrell’s attorney’s, Bart Daniel, said afterward that they had asked for a closed hearing because grand jury matters are secret.
“Until today, when Judge Manning ruled, when the court issued an order, it is secret. It is under seal. And that’s always been our position,” he said. But Harrell said he had always wanted it to be open and wished the entire grand jury process were open.
Judge Manning asked the lawyers on both sides to give him proposed orders next Wednesday. He’ll issue a ruling after that.