[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/13/art.sanfordmtg0813.gi.jpg caption="CNN has learned that Republican support is growing for a possible effort to impeach Mark Sanford, South Carolina's Republican governor."]
(CNN) – A South Carolina Democrat told CNN on Thursday that Republican legislators have assured him there are enough votes to start a bipartisan push for impeachment against Gov. Mark Sanford when the legislative session begins in January.
Rep. Boyd Brown said ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee told him Wednesday that several Republicans on the committee are prepared to team up with Democrats to begin the impeachment process if Sanford doesn’t resign or agree to a full-scale investigation into his travel expenses before the end of the year.
At least one Republican on the Judiciary Committee contacted by CNN Thursday - Rep. Greg Delleney - said he would sign on to an impeachment effort.
The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Jim Harrison, said he has not yet had the chance to talk to committee members about where they stand on the matter. But he said the impeachment drumbeat could easily get louder.
“If things are going to continue to dribble out every week with new allegations of misuse of state property, it may reach the point of impeachment pretty quickly,” Harrison said.
Sanford’s travel has come under increased scrutiny since he disappeared from the country to visit his mistress in June.
In South Carolina, any one member of the House of Representatives can introduce a motion to impeach. But before being voted on by the full chamber, the motion would likely have to survive a vote by the House Judiciary Committee.
The GOP currently controls the committee by a 14-11 margin, meaning at least two Republicans would have to sign on to the motion before it can be sent to the floor - assuming every Democrat on the committee supports it.
Brown said ranking Republicans on the committee have told him: “We got your three votes.”
“The Republicans are on this as much as Democrats,” Brown said. “This thing’s going to get nasty come January if he doesn’t clear his name between now and then or resign.”
Brown met with Sanford privately for about 30 minutes on Thursday morning to discuss economic-development issues. During that meeting, Brown said he told the governor he should ask for a grand jury investigation into his use of state finances to clear his name. If not, he told Sanford, Republicans and Democrats in the House are prepared to impeach him.
“He didn’t like the sound of that,” Brown said, “but he understood that would be an option.”
The power of impeachment in South Carolina, according to the state constitution, is reserved for “cases of serious crimes or serious misconduct in office.” Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote in the House followed by a two thirds vote in the Senate.
State Sen. David Thomas, the Republican chairman of a Senate subcommittee investigating the governor’s travels, said earlier this week that Sanford should be impeached for flying in business class and first class when traveling overseas on two flights in 2006 and 2007.
On Thursday, South Carolina’s Attorney General Henry McMaster asked the state Ethics Commission to examine whether Sanford violated state ethics law by using state aircraft for personal and political purposes. That allegation was made in an Associated Press report over the weekend.
Republican Senate Pro Tempore also said Thursday that the Ethics Commission or the House of Representatives should investigate Sanford’s travel.
A spokesman for the governor, Ben Fox, promised to fully cooperate with “whatever the Ethics Commission decides to do.” Fox said he would not comment on impeachment efforts or questions about the governor’s travel until the Ethics Commission makes a determination on how it will proceed.
UPDATE: South Carolina House GOP leaders said Thursday that they support McMaster's call for the Ethics Commission to investigate Sanford's travel expenses.
House speaker Bobby Harrell, who has been mostly silent throughout the Sanford saga, released a statement saying that "real tangible evidence has come to light that suggests that several serious ethical - and possibly illegal - acts may have been committed" by the governor.
Harrell said that "instead of multiple separate investigations taking place," the Ethics Commission should conduct a full investigation before the House of Representatives decides how to proceed on matters like impeachment.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham also said he supports McMaster's decision. "And it is very important for all the facts to be on the table," he said in a statement. "No one is above the law.”