COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – A state House Judiciary subcommittee adjourned Tuesday without taking action on the impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford. The move – or lack of motion – suggests that the impeachment process will be a drawn-out affair, even in its preliminary stages.
The panel of seven legislators – at least three of whom are staunch Sanford allies – was convened to consider a resolution that was pre-filed this month; the Legislature reconvenes in January.
On Monday the state Ethics Commission released a finding that Sanford, whose term expires next year, may have violated state law 37 times in the past 4 years, through his travel and use of campaign funds.
State Rep. Greg Delleney filed the motion for impeachment based on Sanford’s disappearing from the state for 5 days in June for a rendezvous with his Argentine mistress.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Delleney reiterated his contention that the disappearance alone is enough to warrant Sanford’s removal.
“He left his post, he left his state, and he left his country without notifying anyone in authority. He was in effect, AWOL,” Delleney said.
Indicating neither agreement nor disagreement with Delleney, the panel voted unanimously to consider all charges against Sanford during its deliberations, lumping those of Delleney with those of the Ethics Commission. The subcommittee is expected to hold at least three more meetings in the next two weeks.
The governor’s office announced on Tuesday that it has hired Connecticut attorney Ross Garber, who represented former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland when he faced impeachment in 2004. South Carolina taxpayers will pay his fee.
Gov. Rowland resigned, pleaded guilty to corruption and went to prison.
In his first public statement on Sanford’s case, Garber said, “The Legislature today began an extraordinary and extremely rare process. The Ad Hoc Committee must decide whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the governor committed a serious crime or serious misconduct in office that has corrupted the system of government in South Carolina. This standard is intentionally high.”
Garber said Sanford’s absence from the state in June does not meet that standard.
“As was pointed out in the hearing this afternoon, the state constitution ensures that the chain of command in state government is not threatened, because the lieutenant governor is automatically transferred command in the event of an emergency during the governor’s temporary absence,” Garber said.
Only eight governors have been impeached and removed from office in the history of the United States, and only two in the past 80 years; both were indicted on felony charges.