- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina House committee will decide whether to recommend perjury charges against a Department of Public Safety official after lawmakers were displeased with her answers about a recording that captured her telling someone it was OK to tell a “white lie.”

A subcommittee investigating the agency voted Thursday to ask the full House Legislative Oversight Committee to review what Tosha Autry, the department’s human resources director, said at a meeting earlier this month.

If the committee decides Autry lied, it would ask the attorney general to file charges under a law passed in 2014, Rep. Kirkman Finlay said. He added that it would be the first time the law had been used.

The felony charge could carry up to five years in prison with a conviction, but has no minimum sentence.

But Autry’s lawyer, Malissa Burnette, said the Department of Public Safety has reviewed Autry’s comments and cleared her of lying.

At a subcommittee meeting earlier this month, lawmakers played a recording of Autry saying “you will tell white lies because you know what is going on, but you’ve got to act like you don’t know what is going on.” They did not explain how the recording was made or who Autry was talking to.

Autry confirmed to lawmakers that it was her voice on the tape — however, Finlay said Autry first denied she had asked anyone to lie and then wasn’t fully forthcoming about the reasons she made the comment. He said he was “concerned” by that response.

Autry said the comment was misunderstood and she was saying that people in human resources know confidential information like why someone was fired and can’t talk about everything they know without violating confidentiality rules.

Autry’s lawyer said the subcommittee had asked the agency to investigate Autry at the May 5 meeting. Burnette asked why lawmakers didn’t ask for more information from the agency Thursday.

Finlay said later he thinks the full committee will let the agency detail its findings when it meets in several weeks.

“We believe there are questions that need further investigation,” said Finlay, who added the full committee has several lawyers who can help review the issue.

Finlay’s subcommittee is also reviewing the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he said a perjury allegation may coming soon. The Columbia Republican has been aggressive in the meetings over the two agencies, having the law on perjury read aloud and suggesting to agency leaders they need to carefully think before answering questions.

“I’m going to be optimistic and assume I’ve just stumbled across two disparities that probably need additional investigation,” Finlay said.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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