COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) - A state House judiciary panel on Thursday dismissed 28 of 37 ethics charges against Gov. Mark Sanford, finding taxpayer-financed upgrades to business-class flights and his reimbursements from campaign funds did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
"Much of it, we don't believe, constitutes a violation at all," said Jim Harrison, the Columbia Republican who chairs the panel. "The ones that might constitute a violation don't rise to the level of impeachment."
On Nov. 23 the State Ethics Commission levied the 37 charges following a three-month investigation launched shortly after Sanford's mysterious five-day disappearance from the state and his later admission of an extramarital affair.
The judiciary panel was formed to consider an impeachment resolution based on the notion that Sanford's June disappearance was a dereliction of his duties as governor. It rolled the Ethics Commission's charges into its deliberations only after their release.
"I still think the strongest argument [for impeachment] is the original one set out in the prefilled resolution: that the governor left on his the trip to Argentina without ensuring that an appropriate chain of command was in place," Harrison said. "That was always the most serious issue we were going to look at. ... So the most serious issue is still there."
Also still on the table are eight ethics charges of misusing state aircraft.
The panel is scheduled to meet again Monday, when it will decide whether to send the impeachment bill to the full judiciary committee. If it does, Harrison has indicated he'll convene the committee for a final vote on the resolution before Christmas.
The Legislature itself reconvenes in January and would likely take up the impeachment as the first act of the session if the resolution gets that far.
Sanford attorney Butch Bowers said the governor was pleased with the panel's decision on the majority of the ethics charges.
"This decision confirms that Governor Sanford has followed the letter and spirit of the law," Bowers said in a written statement. "We look forward to resolving this matter quickly and showing, as the Committee's actions today demonstrate that this Administration has been a consistent ally of the taxpayer."
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