Under oath Thursday, several of Governor Nikki Haley’s staffers reiterated that they did not put pressure on the state’s environmental agency to approve a permit for Georgia to dredge the Savannah River. The staffers appeared before a state Senate committee under subpoena.
Haley’s staff had refused to testify until the committee subpoenaed them last week. Ted Pitts serves as a liaison between the Governor’s Office and state agencies, including the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
He said they had done nothing wrong. “The Governor’s Office has nothing to hide on this… If I meet with somebody and I tell you something, I hope that you think that it’s truth and that you don’t put me under oath.”
But the Senate Medical Affairs Committee did put four members of Haley’s staff under oath. They testified that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal had met with the governor in Columbia a month before the decision.
Haley’s Chief of Staff Tim Pearson said that, during the meeting, Deal asked if the DHEC board would hear Georgia’s appeal after DHEC’s staff originally rejected the permit. Pitts said it was not the primary reason the two met.
Shortly afterwards, Pitts said Haley arranged for DHEC board chairman Allen Amsler to walk across the street from his office to meet with her. Pitts said Haley asked Amsler to look at the “merits of the case,” but otherwise did not tell him which way to rule.
However, Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia) wondered if that in itself amounted to political pressure, “To me that is the silver bullet in all this. I clearly believe that was a mistake. I clearly believe it was inappropriate.”
Pitts, a former legislator himself, clashed with several Democrats on the committee. In this exchange with Lourie, Pitts said blaming the DHEC permit on Gov. Haley is “a stretch and political theater at its greatest.”
AUDIO: Lourie and Pitts argued over influence of Haley’s request (1:16)
Lourie said Haley was out of line to make the request on behalf of Georgia’s governor.
At the same time, committee Chairman Harvey Peeler questioned Lourie’s continued reference to an anonymous email that was allegedly sent to fellow Democrat Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg). Hutto said the email was from a DHEC staffer who said they felt pressured to find a way to compromise with Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers.
AUDIO: Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler asked Lourie why other committee members were not able to see the email
Peeler later directly asked Hutto for a copy of the email. Hutto said he could not provide it now because of privacy concerns. He said the staffer was concerned about their job status and did not want their name made public.
The committee drafted a letter afterwards saying they found no undue influence by the Governor’s Office.