COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Members of the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee will meet Tuesday to consider the impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford. Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, said he has assembled a seven-member panel to determine whether to impeach Sanford, who has been embroiled in controversy since he disappeared for five days in June for a rendezvous with an Argentine mistress.
Rep. Greg Delleney on Nov. 16 “pre-filed” a bill calling for Sanford’s impeachment; the Legislature will reconvene in January.
Delleney’s bill says Sanford abandoned his responsibilities to the state and its citizens by disappearing. His aides said at the time that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, a state ethics panel reported on its 3-month investigation of Sanford’s travels and use of campaign funds. It found “probable cause” to bring charges against Sanford.
Sanford, a former congressman who was a signatory of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, was considered a possible 2012 presidential nominee for the Republicans until his personal life imploded.
Harrison, of the House Judiciary Committee, said he plains to send an impeachment resolution to the full Judiciary Committee by Christmas.
Harrison’s actions capped a frenzied week for the governor, who nevertheless appeared serene when talking with reporters at the groundbreaking for Boeing’s new assembly plant in North Charleston on Friday morning.
“We have long waited to tell our side of the story; the problem with the (state Ethic’s Commission’s) preliminary report is it still doesn’t tell our side of the story,” Sanford said.
The Ethics Commission, which met in daylong closed session Wednesday, did not immediately provide details of its deliberations or what specific charges Sanford may face. That shroud of mystery will be lifted on Monday when the commission releases its findings to the public.
Sources close to the matter said in interviews that the report includes no criminal charges, and focuses on about 27 of the 772 flights the governor took during his two terms, and about 10 of Sanford’s 622 expenditures from his 2006 re-election bid.
The questions over flights, in the main, appear not to involve previously disclosed flights, but flights the governor said he believed did not fall under the state’s public-reporting guidelines.
South Carolina law requires public officials to disclose flights provided to them in relation to their position and office; but some question whether the law applies to all flights – especially those made outside his official duties and provided by friends or members of his family.
In September Sanford asked the Ethics Commission to amend his initial disclosures on flights to include a small number of “private” flights he believed fell into the second category.
As for the questioned campaign expenditures, sources said the ethic’s commission zeroed in on a small number of reimbursements to the governor and first lady Jenny Sanford after the 2006 election.
Sanford’s attorney Butch Bowers declined to comment on legal issues or the commission’s report, which he said he had not seen in full. Instead, he reiterated statements he made immediately after the announcement of the Ethics Commission’s findings.
“The commission reviewed 772 flights taken by the governor and raised no questions in regard to 97 percent of the flights,” Bower said. “Similarly, the commission examined 622 of the governor’s campaign expenditures, and 98 percent of them were found to be in complete compliance with the law.”
Bower said the finding of probable cause was limited to minor, technical matters.
Like Sanford, Bowers said he looked forward to “finally presenting our arguments and evidence to address the few remaining questions the commission has.”
“The results of the commission’s exhaustive investigation conform what we have said all along – that Gov. Sanford has been a good steward of public resources and has worked hard to ensure his administration adheres to both the letter and the spirit of the law,” Bowers said.