Governor's Staffers Testify Before Senators, Haley Responds

8:27 PM, Dec 8, 2011   |    comments
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Katherine Veldran

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Four of Gov. Nikki Haley's staff members took their turns testifying under oath Thursday about a decision made regarding the Port of Savannah.

The group appeared after the Senate's Medical Affairs Committee subpoenaed them after they refused numerous requests to testify.

The committee wanted them to answer questions about the governor's role in the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) granting a water quality permit that allows for the dredging of the Savannah River.

Haley's chief of staff, her attorney and two legislative liaisons told senators that to their knowledge, neither Haley nor employees at her office tried to pressure or influence anyone at DHEC into approving the permit for Georgia.

Staffers repeated what Haley said in a recent news conference, that out of neighborly courtesy to a fellow governor, Haley did ask the DHEC board to listen to Georgia's request for a permit, but never told anyone they had to approve it.

The committee voted 7 to 3 to write a letter stating they found no wrong doing.

"There was a question raised of was it done on merits and I think the medical affairs exercised its legislative oversight in interviewing not only board members but those names that were brought up during our process and resolution was achieved," said Sen. Phillip Shoopman, a Republican from Greenville County.

But for some lawmakers, Haley even asking the board to hear the request went too far.

Senator Brad Huttto, a Democrat from Orangeburg, said he had received an anonymous email concerning the DHEC decision.

Senator Joel Lourie, a Democrat from Richland County said anyone with additional information should feel comfortable in coming forward, and not fear losing their job or facing retribution.

"We never thought we'd find blatant intervention, we never thought we'd find calls from the governor's office to staffers but I think what we feel very strongly about it that her, the governor's intervention was inappropriate," said Lourie, who voted against sending the letter. He says the situation could be reopened if they receive additional information.

Still for others, the situation is closed.

"Last week I had asked for closure, transparency and closure, and I think the hearing today showed or resolved all my questions," said Shoopman.

Standing with her staffers after the hearing, Governor Haley spoke to reporters but would not answer any questions.

"I will tell you enough is enough, the political games are slowing our state down at a time that we should be winning," said Haley.

She said the subpoenas were unprecedented and that while her staffers could have fought it, they decided to go because they knew they were right.

"You can shoot at me all you want to, that's my job, I'll take it every time. They don't deserve what had to happen today, They shouldn't have to raise their hand and say this is the truth," said Haley.

Haley took some shots of her own at the news conference, blaming the situation on Senator Vincent Sheheen, a Kershaw Democrat who she ran against for governor, and a Democratic house member, known for butting heads with the governor, Rep. Boyd Brown of Fairfield County.

"Let's be very clear, this hearing was called upon by Vincent Sheheen my former gubernatorial opponent on the basis of an anonymous email and a he-said-she-said in a bar by a legislators who is known in these walls as the at the 'Legislator of Five Points'," said Haley.

Boyd says he had a conversation with one of Haley's legislative liaisons in which he says the staffer called the DHEC decision the best thing they, as in the governor's office, had done.

That staffer disputed that during her testimony under oath.

Brown responding to what he called an attack from the governor.

"Tell the Governor that I'm the representative from Fairfield County. She's probably never heard of it because it's not in Georgia. If she had grown up in the community I grew up in, she wouldn't have been taught to lie as much as she has since taking office. I'll live with whatever she calls me, because in the end, it's still better than being known as a sellout," said Brown in written statement.

"It's clear that the Governor is trying to shift the focus from her lies and bad decisions to my character. I welcome a character debate with someone who sports a background as questionable as her own," he said.

Sheheen also responded to Haley's comments.

"We are not in high school and we should expect better from our leaders. These are serious issues that deserve serious attention. The governor and her DHEC board just sold out South Carolina's environment and economy and we deserve to know why," said Sheheen in a statement.

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