A special prosecutor investigating possible corruption at South Carolina’s Statehouse corruption has now been removed from the case — but he says he won’t step down unless a court orders it.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office argued First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe is abusing his power by asking the state Supreme Court to convene South Carolina’s State Grand Jury. The AG’s Office claims Pascoe lacks the proper authority to do so and is “surreptitiously” going around the state’s top prosecutor.
“It is imperative that the public has complete confidence in the rule of law and that it is being applied ethically and honestly,” Wilson said in an email to various news outlets, including South Carolina Radio Network, on Monday. “My role as Attorney General is not only to protect public trust, but also to protect the integrity of the process. With multiple media leaks over the last nine months, as well an obvious abuse of power, we believe this drastic measure is 100% necessary.”
Pascoe told the Charleston Post & Courier he would not step aside unless ordered by a court, believing the AG does not have the power to remove him. Wilson is a Republican serving in his second term. Pascoe is a Democratic solicitor who has been the chief prosecutor for the state’s First Judicial Circuit of Calhoun, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties since 2005.
The present situation stems from the 2014 ethics investigation into then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell. After months of court proceedings, Wilson announced he was recusing himself from the case, citing a “conflict of interest” with the South Carolina House’s most powerful member. The Attorney General turned over the investigation to Pascoe. The prosecutor’s handling of the case eventually led to Harrell’s guilty plea on six ethics-related counts in October 2014.
The investigation was not over, however, as blacked-out sections of a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigative report showed. Pascoe continued working with SLED, but no further charges were filed for the next 17 months.
Then The State newspaper reported Monday that Pascoe had filed with the Supreme Court to seek State Grand Jury powers and the potential subpoenas they would bring. SLED Chief Mark Keel also requested the move. Pascoe argued in the court filings that Wilson’s office had blocked his investigation into potentially illegal actions by legislators and had ordered Grand Jury clerk Jim Parks not to cooperate. The solicitor petitioned the court to intervene in the case.
By Monday afternoon, the AG’s Office had responded. “(We) have now learned that you have unlawfully attempted to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation,” Chief Deputy Attorney General John McIntosh wrote in a letter removing Pascoe. “Only the Attorney General may convey the authority… and you have neither sought nor received such authority.”
“Rather than seeking explicit authority for a State Grand Jury investigation, you sought to initiate that investigation surreptitiously with respect to this office.”
The watchdog group Common Cause SC’s executive director John Crangle, who joined with South Carolina Policy Council President Ashley Landess to file the initial complaint against Harrell in 2013, said Wilson had already recused himself from the case and should not get involved now.
“It seems to me that Wilson has the same conflict of interest that caused him to give Pascoe the authority in the first place,” Crangle told South Carolina Radio Network. “Wilson’s the guy saying he had the conflict. That conflict of interest hasn’t disappeared in the last year… I think Wilson’s behavior is outrageous.”
No lawmakers have been charged since Harrell’s resignation.