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Officials clash over role of prosecutor in legislative probe

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The state attorney general sought Monday to remove a special prosecutor tasked with investigating legislative corruption — citing an “obvious abuse of power” — but the prosecutor indicated he wouldn’t step down without a court’s intervention.

In a letter obtained Monday by The Associated Press, Chief Deputy Attorney General John McIntosh told solicitor David Pascoe that he was “deeply troubled” the prosecutor had tried to open a state grand jury probe into a redacted portion of a state police report without proper authority.

“Only the attorney general may convey the authority to initiate a state grand jury and you have neither sought nor received such authority,” McIntosh wrote.

He said Pascoe had not returned his phone call to talk about the case. “Rather than seeking explicit authority for a state grand jury investigation, you sought to initiate that investigation surreptitiously with respect to this office,” he said.

Pascoe countered in a Monday letter to McIntosh that he hadn’t improperly initiated the grand jury investigation. He said McIntosh was made aware of it March 21.

“To allege that I … unlawfully attempted to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation is not consistent with the facts or the law,” he said.

Pascoe wrote that he and a top law enforcement official had followed proper procedure to use the state grand jury, including receiving an approval from Circuit Judge Clifton Newman in the eastern part of the state.

Pascoe also said he intends to continue with his work unless McIntosh seeks to have a judge intervene, saying: “Your letter does not alter my authority over this matter …”

“If I do not receive papers from you seeking review by either Judge Newman or the Supreme Court, I will assume that you have reconsidered your position after further review of the law,” he wrote.

In 2014, Attorney General Alan Wilson designated Pascoe to head up prosecution against former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor campaign spending violations and resigned.

State prosecutors have said that the probe is ongoing, but no lawmakers have been charged. In a December 2013 report by the State Law Enforcement Division, 11 of the 42 pages were completely or mostly blacked out. The agency cited a provision in the public records law that exempts releasing information to be used in a future or likely law enforcement action.

State grand jury matters are conducted in secret, and filings associated with them are not publicly available. But earlier Monday, The State newspaper cited documents filed with the state Supreme Court in which Pascoe said he wanted to utilize the state grand jury but was being obstructed by Wilson.

In his letter, McIntosh referenced the story, saying Pascoe “sued the clerk of the state grand jury” to get his way in proceeding with his own investigation. In a statement provided to AP, Wilson said that “multiple media leaks,” combined with “an obvious abuse of power” led him to fire Pascoe.

McIntosh’s letter did not indicate which prosecutor will be appointed to take Pascoe’s place.

“This action in terminating you has nothing to do with the merits of the underlying investigation, but is based upon my conclusion that all prosecutors must follow the law,” McIntosh wrote.

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