Only minutes after her staff testified under oath that they had not put pressure on the state’s environmental agency to approve a permit for Georgia to dredge the Savannah River, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley blasted legislators for subpoenaing them.
“You can shoot at me all you want to,” Haley said, “That’s my job. I’ll take it every time. They don’t deserve what happened today.”
AUDIO: Haley fires back in press conference (9:41)
The staffers had testified to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee earlier in the day. All repeated that they had not intervened in the Department of Health and Environmental Control board’s decision beyond requesting that the board hear Georgia’s appeal. Haley and her staff had refused to testify until the committee subpoenaed her chief of staff, two liaisons, and attorney last week.
Haley said the General Assembly was coming after her administration because senators did not agree with DHEC’s decision. She noted that her gubernatorial opponent Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) had requested the Senate investigation.
“What we are dealing with is a Legislature that likes decisions when it’s their decisions, that likes policy when it’s their policy,” she said, “But they can’t think beyond that. They can’t see the forest for the trees.”
The committee voted 7-3 to draft a letter saying members found no “undue influence” by the Governor’s Office. All three votes against came from Democrats (one Democrat, Sen. Ralph Anderson (D-Greenville) voted in favor of the letter). Several other members abstained from voting.
Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) voted against the letter, saying it was too early to draw that conclusion. “I would agree based on what we know now… (But) we’ve only been looking at this for the last two weeks.”
Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia), “There may not be a smoking gun, but there is a lot of gun smoke.”
Hutto and Lourie said they were concerned about the timeline between when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal met with Haley on October 4 and the compromise DHEC approved a month later.
In between, Haley attended an Atlanta fundraiser on October 28 hosted at the law firm McKenna, Long, & Aldridge– which handles Savannah port issues among many other government regulatory cases. Three of the firm’s employees donated to Haley’s campaign at the event as did its PAC, according to a list released from Haley’s campaign aide.
Hutto said he later received an email from an anonymous DHEC employee who said a “flustered,” high-level agency official asked the staff to “rewrite their proposals opposing dredging to reflect justification.”
Also, Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Winnsboro) said that he got into an argument about the permit with Katherine Veldran, Haley’s legislative liaison in a Columbia bar on November 13. Brown, in a letter to the Senate committee, said Veldran told him the dredging was “the best decision we’ve made since we’ve been in office.”
While under oath Thursday, Veldran denied talking about the Savannah River with Brown, saying the two spoke about other things. Brown has not been asked to testify.
“Let’s be very clear,” Haley said, “This hearing was called upon… on the basis of an unclear, anonymous email and a ‘he said, she said’ in a bar by a legislator that is known in these walls as the “legislator of Five Points.”
Five Points is an entertainment and bar district near the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.