It takes less than 12 hours to go from a white knight to a black sheep in a place like Columbia.

It’s hard to overstate the weight of the jaw-dropping political and legal bomb that hit Monday, instantaneously making Attorney General Alan Wilson go from a potential gubernatorial or higher office hopeful, riding on a record of cleaning up South Carolina’s capital city, to the latest persona non-grata in the long-simmering probe into corruption in and around the State House.

Wilson will have his day in court over whether he did the right thing by seeking to fire special prosecutor David Pascoe, the 1st Circuit solicitor, from the State House corruption case, replacing him with 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson. But the March 28 revelations — allegations that Wilson sought to block the criminal investigation into lawmakers and his efforts to fire Pascoe — come with objectively bad optics and plenty of rich irony. Pascoe had been handpicked by Wilson to lead the case after the attorney general admitted he had unnamed conflicts of interest.

(Update: Johnson has declined the appointment, saying in a letter, “substantive questions have been raised regarding whether your office has the authority to grant me jurisdiction to prosecute this matter. Therefore, I will defer any action regarding this matter until it is resolved before the Supreme Court.”)

The case grew out of an investigation into powerful House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who resigned in 2014 after pleading guilty to ethics corruption charges. Pascoe prosecuted Harrell, and Wilson subsequently asked him to look into other undisclosed SLED findings from that investigation, reportedly involving one or more state lawmakers.

Monday, March 28, started this way: In a court filing obtained by The State’s John Monk, Pascoe alleged that Wilson had tried to block him from gaining access to the State Grand Jury. Wilson denies the claim, and Pascoe has vowed to continue the investigation undeterred. Pascoe told The State that, as special prosecutor, he and his staff “stand in the attorney general’s shoes.”

In plain speak, the allegations say that Wilson’s office effectively re-inserted itself into a case it had previously said his office was “firewalled” from because of those conflicts of interests.

“I think Alan Wilson is a suicide bomber and blew himself up over this,” says John Crangle, executive director of the good government group S.C. Common Cause. “I think Alan Wilson’s political career is over.” Crangle said the events are unprecedented in South Carolina’s history.

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Michael Bailey
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