S.C. legislators begin debate on impeachment of Sanford
Panel charges governor was derelict in duty
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina legislators upset with Governor Mark Sanford’s summer disappearance to see his lover in Argentina began a monthslong process yesterday that could ultimately remove the two-term Republican from office.
The panel of the House Judiciary Committee that is debating impeachment discussed his five-day absence in June and problems related to it, including the failure to put someone in charge of the state while he was gone.
At an hourlong meeting, the panel’s seven members also talked about how to proceed with at least three more hearings in early December. The next one is scheduled Tuesday, and a vote by the panel is expected by the second week of December.
“All he had to do was tell the lieutenant governor that he was going away,’’ said State Representative Greg Delleney, Republican from Chester, one of the sponsors of the impeachment resolution. “He didn’t even have to tell him where he was going. He just had to tell him that he was going away.’’
The four Republicans and one Democrat who cosponsored the impeachment measure say Sanford was derelict in his duty and wrong to mislead staffers into thinking he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The measure says Sanford’s “conduct under these circumstances has brought extreme dishonor and shame to the Office of the Governor of South Carolina and to the reputation of the State of South Carolina.’’
Sentiment among the panel members ranged from disgust at Sanford’s actions to uncertainty that his behavior amounts to an impeachable offense.
“It may constitute something, but it doesn’t constitute dereliction of duty, because those are military terms,’’ said Representative Walt McLeod, Democrat of Prosperity. “There’s no established chain of command or protocol.’’
Sanford has been under scrutiny and pressure to step down since admitting to an extramarital affair with the woman he has called his “soul mate.’’ He has never revealed the identity of a so-called “back channel’’ senior administration official the governor contends could have reached him in an emergency. Sanford’s state e-mail and phone records show he was not in touch with his office while abroad.
Yesterday, committee counsel Patrick Dennis also read from affidavits by several officials, including Sanford’s chief of staff, Scott English. In the sworn statement, English said he did not speak to Sanford from June 18 to June 23, the day the governor returned to South Carolina.
“I tried to reach Governor Sanford by phone on multiple occasions but was unable to speak with him,’’ Dennis quoted English as saying in the statement.
Lawyers representing Sanford said in a legal briefing delivered Monday that the governor has not done anything that rises to the standard of impeachment. If the impeachment measure passes the panel, it would head to the full Judiciary Committee. From there, it would need a majority vote of the 25 members to get it to the House floor in January for debate. A two-thirds vote in favor would result in Sanford’s suspension.