A political firestorm that started with Monday’s disclosure that special prosecutor David Pascoe has accused Attorney General Alan Wilson of impeding an investigation into public corruption in the General Assembly escalated Wednesday with Wilson calling a press conference to denounce Pascoe.
Wilson fired Pascoe on Tuesday, but Pascoe has claimed in court documents that Wilson lacks the authority to fire him.
In a half-hour afternoon press conference, Wilson took aim at two filings Pascoe has made in the S.C. Supreme Court, asserting to reporters that Pascoe is “tainted” and that his allegations that Wilson is impeding a public corruption investigation are grossly irresponsible.
“They’re filled with half-truths, misinformation and at least one outright lie. A lie,” an angry Wilson told reporters, his faced flushed and his speech rapid. “There is an inference in there that has been reported as somehow me and members of my staff have tried to impede a public corruption probe. That is absolutely false.”
“I’m here to tell all of you that I have done the right thing,” Wilson said, before chronicling Pascoe’s purported defects as a person and a lawyer, and making it clear, that although he chose Pascoe as a special prosecutor, Pascoe was only chosen after Wilson’s five first choices turned him down.
“I have reservations, as did members of my staff, about Solicitor Pascoe, about his temperament and how he can be difficult to work with, but he was a competent prosecutor, and he was all that we had,” Wilson said. “(Now) my staff and I have lost complete confidence and trust in him and his ability. ... He clearly doesn’t know what he is doing.”
Wilson also referred to his 2014 appointment of Pascoe as a special prosecutor to investigate former House Speaker Bobby Harrell. After being appointed, Pascoe within weeks indicted Harrell, who pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds and resigned from office.
On Wednesday, Wilson belittled that conviction, saying Pascoe should have convicted Harrell on more serious charges. “It was extremely disappointing for us.”
Pascoe needs to be ousted from anything to do with the State Grand Jury, Wilson said, charging that Pascoe had “tainted” any possible State Grand Jury investigation because of numerous leaks to the news media in recent months. However, Wilson avoided specifically accusing Pascoe as being the source of those leaks.
Wilson told reporters he is ready immediately to activate a State Grand Jury investigation, “but it has to be done lawfully and by someone who is not tainted.”
Wilson would not say how Pascoe is tainted but did refer to what he called a series of missteps in Pascoe’s handling of the investigation.
Behind Wilson were American flags and the state’s three former living attorneys general – Travis Medlock, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster and Charlie Condon, who came to show support for Wilson.
Reached later, Pascoe declined comment, saying only, “The courtroom is the appropriate place for my remarks.”
Wilson also said he was alarmed that a State reporter had learned about the petition Pascoe had filed Friday in the state Supreme Court and published a story about it Monday.
That petition should have been sealed and kept secret since it was about the State Grand Jury, Wilson said.
However, Jay Bender, a longtime media lawyer specializing in open records law, later disagreed. Bender said that since Pascoe’s peitition was about who is in charge of the State Grand Jury investigation, and not about the inner workings or details of the investigation, the filing should have been public.
“We have open courts in South Carolina, except for narrow circumstances, and this was not one of those circumstances,” Bender said. In 2014, Bender successfully pushed for open hearings in similar, non-investigative State Grand Jury proceedings in the Harrell case.
It will take three of the five Supreme Court justices to decide whether to hear the case in the high court. At issue in any court hearing will be whether Wilson, who last year recused himself and his office from the investigation, saying he had a conflict, can re-enter the investigation and fire Pascoe.
According to court pleadings, Pascoe and SLED Chief Mark Keel are in the final stages investigation.
Earlier Wednesday, Pascoe filed a petition with the S.C. Supreme Court asking the high court to immediately hold a hearing and rule on whether Wilson can remove him from being special prosecutor in the ongoing public corruption investigation.
“The Attorney General’s actions in this matter have left the underlying investigation obstructed,” Pascoe wrote in his filing.
Pascoe, who with SLED Chief Mark Keel is entering the final stages of an investigation into legislative public corruption, was fired by Wilson from his special prosecutor post on Monday.
Earlier Wednesday, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson rebuffed a directive from Wilson’s office that he immediately take over Pascoe’s job as special prosecutor.
“I believe that a justiciable controversy exists as to whether your office has the ability to remove Solicitor Pascoe and appoint me,” Johnson wrote to Wilson’s chief deputy attorney general.
In his letter, Johnson pointed out that it is an open question whether Wilson, who had recused himself from the ongoing investigation because of possible conflicts of interest, can now step back into the case and fire Pascoe.
“I will defer any action regarding this matter until it is resolved before the Supreme Court,” Johnson wrote.
Pascoe and Keel’s investigation of public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly has been authorized by Circuit Judge Clifton Newman.
AG questions reporter about source
Attorney General Alan Wilson took questions from reporters after his 23-minute address Wednesday. The State’s John Monk asked the first question, whether Wilson wanted his dispute between Pascoe to be argued in an open or closed session of the Supreme Court.
Monk: “Do you want this to be hashed out in public view?”
Wilson: “I tell you what, I will answer that question if you tell me how you knew to walk into the Supreme Court shortly after the pleadings were filed.”
Monk: “My reporting is not an issue here. We want to hear you answer. You are the one who is on the spot for possibly impeding an investigation. And, you know what I think of you – I hold you in high esteem.”
Wilson: “I’ve proved my point.”
Monk: “Which point was that?”
Wilson: “That you can’t answer it.”
Monk: “Reporters never answer how they find out things, Mr. Attorney General. You know that. You know that! Your father (longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.) knows that.”
Wilson: “John, I confirmed that you walked in shortly after it was filed. I don’t know how you knew they were filed, but someone told you.”
Monk: “I’ve been doing that for 40 years – there’s nothing new about that.”