Sanford's fate boils down to Argentina
12:00 pm
Thu December 3, 2009

Sanford's fate boils down to Argentina

It appears the possible impeachment of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford will come down to his secret five-day trip to Argentina.

A House impeachment panel today brushed aside charges that Sanford illegally upgraded to business class flights or spent about $3,000 in campaign funds for personal use. These represent 28 of 37 ethics charges against Sanford. Panel members say those allegations, even if true, are not serious enough to warrant impeachment.

However, Representative Jim Harrison says Sanford's not off the hook.

"I still think the strongest argument is Representative Delleney's original argument that the trip to Argentina without setting a chain of command before he left is the most serious issue we were going to discuss all along. So the most serious issue is still there," Harrison said.

In addition to looking at Sanford's secret trip to Argentina last summer, the panel will also take a closer look at a 2008 state economic mission to the country. Sanford visited his mistress on that trip as well.

A final vote from the impeachment panel will likely come Monday afternoon. Its recommendation will go to the full House Judiciary Committee, which Harrison plans to convene for a final vote before Christmas.

Representative Greg Delleney of Chester is still the only lawmaker on the 7-member panel to have come out clearly in favor of impeachment. The rest say they will wait until Monday.

Sanford's attorney, Butch Powers, says the governor is pleased with the panel's decision to no longer consider most of the ethics charges.

"This decision confirms that Governor Sanford has followed the letter and spirit of the law. We look forward to resolving this matter quickly and showing, as the Committee's actions today demonstrate, that this Administration has been a consistent ally of the taxpayer," Powers said in a prepared statement.

The panel is still reviewing nine ethics charges concerning the governor's use of the state plane, but members have indicated they don't think those merit impeachment, either.

No matter what the panel decides regarding impeachment, it's up to the Ethics Commission to judge whether Sanford is guilty of the 37 ethics charges pending against him. If found guilty, he could be forced to pay several thousand dollars in fines.

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