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Panel rules most Sanford ethics breaches not impeachable crimes

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A state House of Representatives panel weighing removing Gov. Mark Sanford from office concluded that the bulk of 37 ethics charges against the governor are not impeachable offenses.

In a brief meeting Thursday, the committee voted unanimously to remove 18 counts of Sanford using business class tickets and 10 counts of Sanford improperly using campaign funds from the scope of their investigation. Committee chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland, said the charges may warrant fines from the S.C. State Ethics Commission, but they are not enough to remove Sanford from office.

The S.C. House's ad hoc Judiciary Impeachment Subcommittee tossed most ethics charges leveled against Gov. Mark Sanford in a hearing today. The committee began Tuesday considering a measure to impeach Sanford for his five-day absence in June as well as ethics violations. Here, Judiciary Counsel Patrick Dennis, right, compiles evidence for the panel.

- Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com

"Much of it, we don't believe, constitutes a violation at all," Harrison said. "The ones that might constitute a violation don't rise to the level of impeachment."

Sanford has been under scrutiny since a secret five-day trip to Argentina in June, during which he conducted an extramarital affair.

Media investigations raised questions about his use of state and private aircraft, campaign funds and business-class airfare. A handful of lawmakers have also charged the governor with "serious misconduct" -- a state constitutional requirement for impeachment -- for abandoning his duties, lying to staff and dishonoring the office of governor.

Harrison said the committee will meet Monday to consider if a 2008 trade trip to Argentina -- during which Sanford met his lover -- was a proper use of state funds and to debate the other charges against the governor. Harrison said he expects the panel will finish up and vote on an impeachment recommendation Monday, and the full Judiciary committee will meet to vote on the impeachment resolution the following week.

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