South Carolina Governor's Attorneys Defend Use of State-Owned Plane
December 1, 2009Attorneys for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford told lawmakers mulling impeachment Tuesday that their client did nothing improper by using state-owned aircraft for travel that included political and personal events.
"Much like other public officials have used the state plane appropriately, so has Gov. Sanford," attorney Butch Bowers told a panel of state legislators considering if the Republican should be impeached. "Nothing here rises anywhere near the level of what would be an impeachable offense."
Bowers addressed the seven members of the House Judiciary Committee in the second of at least four meetings they plan to hold on issues including Sanford's travel on state-owned aircraft.
Besides a resolution accusing the governor of abandoning the state, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison has said legislators are looking at 37 state Ethics Commission charges involving the Republican governor's use of state airplanes for personal and political purposes, as well as high-priced commercial airline travel and reimbursing himself from campaign funds.
Sanford's travel and campaign spending have been under scrutiny since he returned in June from a five-day rendezvous with his Argentine lover and confessed a yearlong affair. Since then, investigations by The Associated Press found high-priced travel on commercial planes despite state low-cost travel requirements; use of state planes for personal and political purposes and unreported private plane flights provided by friends and donors.
Sanford has brushed aside repeated calls to step down before his final term ends in January 2011, and his lawyers say they'll answer the ethics questions at separate hearings on them early next year.
Eight U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, and the only two removed in the last 80 years each faced criminal charges. Standards for impeachment vary by state.
If the panel decides the impeachment measure is worthy, it moves to the full Judiciary Committee. If it passes with a majority vote from its 25 members, it would head to the House floor in January for debate. A two-thirds vote in favor would result in Sanford's suspension.
The Senate, acting as jury, then would decide whether Sanford would be removed from office, which would also require a two-thirds vote.
Before Bowers' comments, the committee also released a series of further questions they had posed to Sanford chief of staff Scott English. They included a request for detailed information on whether any staffers were able to get in touch with the governor while he was in Argentina, and whether English spoke with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer during Sanford's absence.
The committee also asked State Law Enforcement Division chief Reggie Lloyd how agents had attempted to track Sanford's whereabouts and what response SLED got from calls and text messages to the governor's cell phone.
Committee counsel Patrick Dennis said the answers to all questions are due by Friday at 10 a.m.
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