Although both the state House and Senate are on recess this week, an ongoing investigation of possible corruption in those chambers is suddenly making headlines.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday appointed a new special prosecutor to take over the investigation of potential corruption within the Legislature. A deputy to Attorney General Alan Wilson notified 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson in a letter that Johnson had been picked to head up the effort.
Deputy Attorney General John McIntosh wrote Johnson will “have full authority to review the matter and this office will fully support whatever decision you deem appropriate.”
However, Johnson responded in a separate letter that he will defer taking any action in the position as long as controversy exists on his predecessor’s status.
The move came one day after Wilson’s office removed First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe from the case, claiming Pascoe had tried to open a State Grand Jury probe into a redacted State Law Enforcement Division report without proper authority. That largely blacked-out report was done by SLED in its investigation of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who pleaded guilty to six campaign spending violations in 2014.
Pascoe has argued Wilson does not have the power to remove him and that he will not step aside unless a court orders it. The solicitor claimed in a state Supreme Court filing reported by The State last week that the AG’s Office was trying to quash the State Grand Jury’s involvement and the subpoena power it provides. The filings also hinted that other unnamed legislators may have committed criminal acts. The Wilson cited the apparent leaks in removing Pascoe, arguing his actions were an “abuse of power.”
Johnson, however, said the legal issue needs to be settled before he will take over the investigation. “I believe that a justifiable controversy exists as to whether your office has the ability to remove Solicitor Pascoe and appoint me,” he wrote.
The AG’s Office would normally handle such investigations, but Wilson tapped Pascoe as special prosecutor in 2014, citing a conflict of interest due to his personal connections with Harrell and other lawmakers.
Wilson is a Republican serving in his second term at the statewide level, while both Pascoe and Johnson are locally elected Democratic solicitors. Pascoe’s First District covers Calhoun, Colleton, and Orangeburg counties, while Johnson’s Fifth District covers Kershaw and Richland counties.