Gov. Mark Sanford scored a major victory Thursday when a panel of House lawmakers considering his impeachment decided three-quarters of the ethics charges lodged against the two-term Republican do not merit his removal from office.
Instead, lawmakers appear more likely to censure the governor — officially condemning him for misconduct — for his secret five-day Argentina tryst when the Legislature returns in January.
The S.C. State Ethics Commission has charged Sanford with 37 counts of breaking state ethics laws.
But the House impeachment panel took just 31 minutes Thursday to decide 28 of those charges did not meet the "serious" crimes or misconduct standard the state Constitution requires for impeachment.
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The committee said Tuesday it likely would ignore half of nine other ethics charges relating to Sanford's use of state-owned aircraft for personal or political travel.
Lawmakers still could impeach Sanford for serious misconduct because he left the state without informing other officials where he was and misled his staff.
Sanford also still faces the possibility of up to $74,000 in fines from those 37 charges when an S.C. State Ethics Commission panel debates his case in January.
S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster also is reviewing those ethics charges to determine whether there is any evidence of crimes but has yet to announce a decision.
Among the charges the House removed from the scope of its inquiry were 10 counts of improper use of campaign money and 18 counts of illegally purchasing business class tickets for state trade trips.
"Much of it, we don't believe, constitutes a violation at all," said committee chairman state Rep. James Harrison, R-Richland. "The ones that might constitute a violation don't rise to the level of impeachment."
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