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SC state lawmakers to begin building case for Sanford impeachment

Today, it will become clearer whether or not South Carolina lawmakers will go through with an attempt to impeach Governor Mark Sanford. The details of a state ethics investigation into Sanford's plane flights and other travel should be released by midday. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: The State Ethics Commission has already said that a three-month investigation found "probable cause" to charge Governor Sanford with several violations of state law. Today the commission will disclose those violations and Sanford's attorney has agreed to release a preliminary report from the investigation. The commission will hold a hearing to determine Sanford's guilt early next year. But University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins says the details to be released today will be key to state lawmakers. "If the ethics commission comes out and clearly says that he broke the law, then I would think it would be almost impossible for the general assembly to resist calls to do something," says Tompkins. If the commission finds Sanford broke criminal laws - such as misusing state resources - Tompkins says that would be a stronger case for impeachment. However, if the Governor only broke ethics rules by, for example, failing to disclose a flight he took with a donor, Tompkins says lawmakers are more likely to just pass a resolution chastising the Governor. Several members of the State House have already filed a resolution for impeachment based solely on the grounds that Sanford left the country for five days to visit his mistress without notifying his staff or state officials. They say that's dereliction of duty. But Tompkins says, "That's not the kind of thing you spend a week having an impeachment debate about," says Tompkins. "Use of state resources and relationship with lobbyists - those are the issues that are gonna ultimately move the process." Tomorrow afternoon, seven members of the State House of Representatives will meet to consider whether they have enough ammunition for impeachment. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has said he needs more than just dereliction of duty to support impeachment. And though many members of the General Assembly from both parties would like to see Sanford gone, Tompkins says a drawn-out debate over Sanford's love affair and travels at a time when the state budget is in shambles could hurt lawmakers' chances for re-election next year. Tompkins says that explains why the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has asked the impeachment subcommittee to meet just before Thanksgiving and to have a recommendation by Christmas. "What he's trying to do is have a lot of these issues solved before the House comes in session," says Tompkins. "So that shortcuts some of the concern that people will look at the General Assembly spending hours and hours and hours debating the governor's behavior before instead of doing the business of the people." If the subcommittee recommends impeachment, the rest of the House Judiciary Committee would likely vote before the end of the year. The full House of Representatives will not debate impeachment until after the General Assembly convenes on January 13th. But Governor Sanford would stay in office, unless the State Senate also votes to remove him.