South Carolina’s top prosecutor said Thursday that his office hopes to file an appeal in the next few days after a judge ordered him to stop investigating state House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said he hopes the appeal will occur before the middle of next week. “It’ll be filed shortly. I don’t want to tell you a specific day, but it is imminent,” he told South Carolina Radio Network in a Thursday interview.
Circuit Judge Casey Manning ruled Monday that the Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority and could not convene the State Grand Jury to consider evidence of possible wrongdoing by Harrell. Manning wrote that only the House Ethics Committee has the “exclusive” power to handle ethics complaints filed against House members.
But Wilson insists his office has the power to begin an investigation against anyone in the state, including legislators. He said he worries the Ethics Committee would have a conflict of interest given Harrell’s power in the chamber and his ability to hire and fire committee staffers (although the committee members themselves are elected by the House).
Wilson has said his office will continue investigating Harrell while appealing the case to the state Supreme Court. The Speaker accuses him of “defying” Judge Manning’s order. “This entire thing has been political in nature. It hasn’t been about the law,” Harrell told reporters after Tuesday’s House session. “And that’s obvious and proven by the Attorney General choosing to defy the court order and move forward purely for political reasons.”
The attorney general called Harrell’s claim “ridiculous.”
“The conspiracy that this is political would have to be so grand as to incorporate the Chief of SLED, numerous investigators, and career criminal prosecutors,” he said. “That just is ridiculous. It has absolutely nothing to do with politics.”
He also rebuffed Harrell’s call to release a State Law Enforcement Division report detailing its investigation into the Speaker’s campaign finances. Harrell has previously said he believes the SLED report would exonerate him. But Wilson said it’s inappropriate to release the report while the investigation continues.
“At some point in the future, I do believe the public will be able to look at everything… and I look forward to the day that happens,” he said. “But, right now, there’s a process in place. And when that process runs its course — and it has not run its course at this time– when it’s finished, then everything will be released.
SLED does not publicly comment on ongoing investigations, but its Chief Mark Keel has stood with Wilson during the proceedings and agrees the report should be kept secret for now.
State Rep. Mike Pitts, a Laurens Republican who also sits on the House Ethics Committee, said Chief Keel told him the agency is being very deliberate in its investigation. Pitts told Greenwood radio station WCRS on Monday that Keel previously said “no rock would be left unturned and no leaf not looked under,” because he “did not want there to be any way that people can say this was not thoroughly vetted.”
Pitts said the Ethics Committee has not received any complaint against Harrell. South Carolina Policy Council president Ashley Landess said she only filed the complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.