August 20, 2014

Editorial: Sooner or later, Harrell SLED report must be made public

SINCE JANUARY, House Speaker Bobby Harrell has been demanding the release of the SLED investigation into corruption allegations against him.

SINCE JANUARY, House Speaker Bobby Harrell has been demanding the release of the SLED investigation into corruption allegations against him.

And since January, Attorney General Alan Wilson has refused, citing an ongoing State Grand Jury investigation and a state law that prohibits the release of grand jury material.

There was, of course, always a second reason he didn’t release the report: No prosecutor is going to turn over an investigative report when the case is still being investigated. The legal distinction is that the prosecutor gets to decide whether to release such a report — except when the case is before the State Grand Jury.

Mr. Harrell has insisted since questions first were raised about the way he spent campaign money that he has done nothing illegal and that the SLED report would vindicate him and also demonstrate that the attorney general is pursuing a political vendetta against him.

Mr. Wilson has insisted that the report contains serious criminal allegations; indeed, both Mr. Wilson and SLED Chief Mark Keel signed legal documents to that effect, and Circuit Judge Casey Manning approved their use of the State Grand Jury because he concluded that the report detailed corruption allegations that merited further investigation.

Given the immense power that the public has entrusted to both of these men, and the serious questions of abuse of power that this case raises, the people of South Carolina need to know which story is true. There are only two ways that we’re ever going to know that: if Mr. Harrell is indicted and found either guilty or not guilty, or if the report is released to the public.

At this point, we have no way of knowing whether Mr. Harrell will be indicted. He apparently believes he’s out of the woods; he announced triumphantly over the weekend that the Grand Jury was not renewed when its one-year term expired at the end of June, and that Mr. Wilson had turned the matter over to First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe. Although Mr. Wilson has refused to comment, citing the state Supreme Court’s thinly veiled directive to Judge Manning to keep everything about this case hidden from the public, the attorney general has not even implicitly disputed the speaker’s claim.

But here’s what we do know: Now that the Grand Jury no longer is empaneled, it cannot be argued that there is a legal prohibition on releasing the SLED report. And if Mr. Harrell’s victory dance has any basis — if in fact whatever remains of the criminal investigation is merely pro forma — then there is no reason that Mr. Wilson or Mr. Pascoe or whoever has possession of the report should not release it. Immediately.

For that matter, we don’t understand what legal basis there could be for Mr. Wilson refusing to comment on the status of the case. But then, there has been a lot about this case whose legal basis we have not understood.

It’s understandable that Mr. Wilson wouldn’t want to speak in detail and that the report would remain hidden from the public if the criminal investigation is indeed continuing. But even that must end at some point.

Whenever it ends, and however it ends, the attorney general must give an accounting for the way he has handled the case, and the SLED report must be released to the public. Not just because the subject of the probe has been so adamant in demanding its release, but because the voters need to know who has been doing his job and who has been abusing his office: our attorney general, or the speaker of the House.

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