Subpoenas are expected to be issued this week in the ongoing ethics investigation into whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied for her employers during her time as a state representative.
The House Ethics Committee will meet on Thursday to decide who to call as witnesses in the investigation, which started with a corruption lawsuit filed by Republican power-broker John Rainey. Lawmakers have already named Rainey as the first witness, though it’s unknown if Haley will be called to answer questions about her work for Lexington Medical Center and Wilbur Smith & Associates.
When asked last week whether she would testify at the ethics hearing scheduled for June 28, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey refused to comment. But judging by the record of a governor who campaigned on a platform of transparency, it’s likely any subpoena would be met with fierce obstruction by Gov. Haley’s legal team.
Late last year, Gov. Haley’s staff initially refused to testify about their involvement with a controversial ports deal with Georgia that has since become known as the “Savannah River Sellout” — a deal that was not only resoundingly rejected by the General Assembly, but found to be illegal as well. After senators issued subpoenas to Haley’s office, the governor made clear in a press conference that she could’ve fought them on it but chose not to.
As was clear back in December, the legal rationale for this was a tenuous one at best — but it doesn’t seem to have changed in the ensuing six months. According to media law expert Jay Bender, the governor’s obstruction of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Charleston Post & Courier is an abuse of the state’s open records law:
Under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, The Post and Courier requested all records and correspondence from Haley’s office related to the S.C. House Ethics Committee and its investigation of the governor.
Last week, Haley’s chief legal counsel Swati Patel said in a written response to The Post and Courier that the majority of communications the newspaper requested are exempt from disclosure under a section of state law that protects the correspondence and work product of legal counsel.
The provision Patel cited in shielding the rest of the documents states that a public body can choose to withhold correspondence or work products of legal counsel and any other material that would violate attorney-client relationships.
We’re reminded of House Minority Leader Harry Ott’s quip back in March after Gov. Haley initially refused to waive confidentiality of the ethics investigation:
“According to Governor Haley, ‘can’t’ is not an option, but apparently ‘wont’ is,” Ott said in March. “She talks a great game, but when it’s time to turn her rhetoric into action, the ‘transparency governor’ hides behind a wall of secrecy.”