An angry South Carolina attorney general on Wednesday denied reports that his office is blocking a Statehouse corruption investigation.
Attorney General Alan Wilson argued he removed First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe from the investigation on Monday because the solicitor tried to improperly impanel the State Grand Jury and its subpoena powers. Wilson also claimed parts of the case were leaked to The State newspaper.
“At no time has anyone on my staff ever done anything to impede any investigation, stop any investigation, impede any investigation,” Wilson told reporters during a 35-minute news conference that occasionally got contentious between the state’s top prosecutor and several journalists who had written about the ongoing case.
The lengthy investigation dates back to early 2014, when Wilson used the State Grand Jury in an attempt to prosecute then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Harrell’s attorneys accused Wilson of a conflict of interest and the case went to the state Supreme Court. But before the justices could rule on whether the case could proceed, Wilson turned over the investigation to Pascoe, the lead prosecutor for cases in Calhoun, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties. Wilson insisted Wednesday he’d had reservations on using Pascoe, but said his first five choices were unwilling to go after the powerful House Speaker.
Pascoe eventually secured a guilty plea from Harrell on six misdemeanor ethics-related counts in October 2014. He then continued last year with a larger investigation into the State Law Enforcement Division’s (SLED) report on Harrell, most of which has been kept secret since Harrell’s plea. The investigation eventually faded into the background until Friday, when Pascoe submitted filings with the state Supreme Court asking that he be able to convene the State Grand Jury. In the filings, revealed by The State newspaper on Monday, Pascoe said he was being blocked by the grand jury’s clerk on Wilson’s orders
Wilson claimed that was a “lie,” and insisted state law only allows him and SLED Chief Mark Keel to sign the documents to impanel the State Grand Jury (Keel has signed off on Pascoe’s request). The attorney general said he was never been approached by Pascoe to sign on his behalf.
“How can our office impede a public corruption investigation when we haven’t seen anything?” Wilson maintained. “We have no clue whatsoever what is going on. If we wanted to impede it, we would not know what to impede.”
Grand jury proceedings are kept secret under state law, as investigators worry publicizing information from those hearings could hurt future trials.
Pascoe has previously argued Wilson’s recusal from the case means he cannot get involved in any way with a State Grand Jury. He did not wish to respond to Wilson’s claims on Wednesday, saying only “I have no comment because it is a matter pending before the Supreme Court.”
State law requires the Attorney General impanel and act as the legal adviser for the confidential proceedings of the State Grand Jury. But the law also allows the Attorney General to recuse himself from any grand jury proceedings and refer the case to a solicitor. However, the law is not explicit on whether this transferred power would also include convening the State Grand Jury in the first place.
Wilson had tried to appoint a new prosecutor to the case on Tuesday, but Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson responded that he would defer until the Supreme Court rules because “a justifiable controversy exists as to whether your office has the ability to remove Solicitor Pascoe and appoint me.”
At one point in Wednesday’s press conference, Wilson got into an argument with journalist John Monk of The State newspaper over Monk’s role in reporting Pascoe’s court filings. After Monk asked whether Wilson would try to keep future Supreme Court filings confidential, Wilson said he would answer the question if Monk explained “how you knew to walk into the Supreme Court shortly after the pleadings were (filed)?”
Monk refused to answer, saying, “You’re the one who’s on the spot for possibly impeding an investigation. And you know what I think of you. I hold you in high esteem.”
“I’m happy to answer your question,” Wilson responded. “You proved my point, though.”
“Reporters never answer how they find out things, Mr. Attorney General,” Monk retorted. “You know that. You know that. Your father (US Rep. Joe Wilson) knows that.”
“John, I confirmed today that you walked in shortly after it was filed,” Wilson continued. “I don’t know how you knew they were filed, but someone tipped you off.”
“I’ve been doing that for 40 years,” Monk said. “Nothing new about that.”
“Over Easter?” Wilson asked rhetorically, before answering it would be the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to make the documents public.