Mark Sanford vows legal battle against impeachment

But lawmakers – including most fellow Republicans – are ready to give the scandal-tainted South Carolina governor the boot if he doesn't resign.

Mary Ann Chastain / AP
Gov. Mark Sanford listened as his attorney Butch Bowers talked about the actions of the Ethics Commission during a news conference Thursday at the State House in Columbia, S.C.

Give South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford props for doggedness.

Far from heeding mounting calls for his resignation, Governor Sanford on Thursday promised a legal fight should the General Assembly try to rush an impeachment trial by, as he said, “short-circuiting” a state Ethics Committee investigation.

Sanford is known by supporters as frugal and independent, but critics describe him as being out of touch. He objects to a move by House Republicans to use a preliminary investigation into use of a state plane and expensive commercial jet tickets to bolster a looming General Assembly trial. Still, he faces diminishing prospects of being able to win a looming impeachment battle in the state capital in Columbia.

The intraparty fight that started with the governor’s five-day incommunicado absence to be with an Argentinian mistress in June is now devolving into the very scenario that Republicans feared: an ongoing tragicomic reality TV show that could subsume the urgent business of a state that has, under Sanford’s leadership and judging by unemployment and economic development, fallen to the bottom of the pack among Sun Belt powers.

For the first time with a lawyer at his side, Sanford said the attempt to bypass a full ethics commission investigation to rush impeachment is “illegal.” He said it amounted to a “kangaroo court” with the jury only able to hear the prosecutor’s argument, not the defense’s.

While noting that he has supported opening up the entire Ethics Committee proceedings to the public, he added: “Without [radio broadcaster] Paul Harvey’s ‘rest of the story,’ you get to take the charges, but none of the defense, none of the rest of the story, on the basis on which you decide or don’t decide to bring impeachment proceedings. That’s fundamentally not fair.”

Sanford himself has gone back to his base in recent weeks, traveling across South Carolina’s low country to meet with Rotary clubs and other civic groups. A one-time presidential hopeful, Sanford represents an outside power broker who carries the wishes of the people, not entrenched state politicians, into the business of government. His refusal to take some federal stimulus money – eventually rebuked by the General Assembly – put him into the league of populist-style politicians like Sarah Palin in Alaska and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

But despite his recent forays – from where he reports a “vast disconnect” between political agendas in Columbia and what’s on the mind of “real people” – Sanford’s chances of pushing through any type of agenda in his last 16 months look dim.

His political opponents, most of whom say Sanford needs to go in order to restore the public’s trust in South Carolina government and the state GOP, already have enough signatures in both the House and Senate to successfully impeach him.

A prolonged legal battle with the General Assembly that Sanford is now promising could push the impeachment battle deep into next year’s legislative session – the very unraveling that Republicans are now desperately trying to avoid.

Despite Sanford’s new legal maneuverings, it’s becoming clear by the sheer number of impeachment supporters coming out of the woodwork that proceedings are imminent – possibly in a special session called as early as next month.

“The circus must end,” a prominent Republican lawmaker told, which covers the backroom drama of South Carolina politics. “And it will end.”


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