Panel weighs plan to oust Sanford

Sworn statements from his staff could be crucial

11/25/2009 12:00 AM

12/16/2009 9:31 AM

A group of House lawmakers wants sworn statements from the governor's staff and others, detailing the events leading up to Gov. Mark Sanford's five-day disappearance in June.

Those details, they say, will help determine whether Sanford should be impeached for his secret trip to visit his lover in Argentina.

Tuesday, the seven House members met for the first time to consider a resolution to try the embattled, two-term governor. They hope to wrap up their work by Christmas and send a recommendation on impeachment to the full Judiciary Committee.

The committee also voted to delve into 37 charges made by the State Ethics Commission, including claims Sanford used campaign cash and state aircraft for personal reasons.

Under the state Constitution, Sanford must be guilty of a serious crime or other serious misconduct to be impeached.

Sanford's attorneys have said repeatedly that the governor's disappearance does not rise to the level of impeachment nor do the ethics charges, which they have deemed "minor" and "technical."

Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, a chief sponsor of the resolution and member of the subcommittee, made an impassioned speech during Tuesday's meeting, claiming Sanford, commander of the S.C. National Guard, abandoned his post, which constitutes a dereliction of duty.

"The lieutenant governor was not aware of the governor's absence from the state of South Carolina and during his absence there was no established chain of command," Delleney said.

"The governor intentionally and clandestinely evaded S.C. Law Enforcement Division agents assigned to secure his safety in order to affect his absence from the state. And that conduct alone constitutes a dereliction of duty. He left his post. He left his state. He left his country without notifying anyone in authority. He was, in effect, AWOL," he said.

But fellow subcommittee member, Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry, disagreed with Delleney's interpretation of Sanford as a soldier absent without leave.

"The governor is a civilian so this military language about 'dereliction of duty' and 'AWOL'" might not apply to Sanford, McLeod said, adding that, for practical matters, the state's adjutant general oversees the Guard.

Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, sided with Delleney.

"The governor is commander in chief of our National Guard . . . he should not be judged at a lesser standard than the airmen and soldiers with whom he commands," said Smith, a veteran of the Afghanistan war.

Also at issue is whether Sanford should have informed Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer before leaving the state and country.

Delleney said yes.

"All he had to do was tell the lieutenant governor he was going away. He didn't even have to tell him where he was going." he said.

But Ross Garber, recently hired attorney for the governor's office, said power automatically shifts to the lieutenant governor should an emergency arise.

"The state Constitution ensures that the chain of command in state government is not threatened because the lieutenant governor is automatically transferred command in the event of an emergency during the governor's temporary absence," he said.

The subcommittee also set dates for four meetings in December, the first of which is Dec. 1.

The impeachment resolution begins the process of seeking the ultimate removal of office of the term-limited, two-term Republican governor.

The subcommittee's recommendation will go to the full House Judiciary Committee. If that committee votes to impeach Sanford, the resolution would go to the full House.

For the House to pass the resolution, two-thirds of House members must agree. Next would be the S.C. Senate, which would try Sanford. Two-thirds of senators would have to agree to convict Sanford. If convicted, he would be removed from office.

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