PA Republicans take one last swipe at Philly on their way out of power.
HARRISBURG – Even as Democrats were busy winning the last seat they needed to take the majority in the State House in Harrisburg, Republicans were throwing the final temper tantrum of their three-decade-long run in the majority by sophomorically impeaching District Attorney for Philadelphia Larry Krasner. Republicans have essentially accused D.A. Krasner of doing the job that Philadelphians asked him to do and following the law to overturn the will of the people who overwhelmingly voted for him twice.
It’s been clear since Krasner beat his Republican opponent in May that Republicans in the state house intended to remove him from office via impeachment. In the weeks before the mid-terms, Republican attacks on Krasner picked up steam in the hopes that Republicans could ride the manufactured fear of increases in crime to maintain their majorities.
After the election, as it looked increasingly more likely that their fear tactics didn’t succeed and Democrats would take the majority in the state house, Republicans turned to punish Democrats for their success.
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary passed an Impeachment resolution out of committee along party lines on Tuesday and turned it around for a vote in record time on Wednesday. Also, to be passed along nearly party lines, the final floor vote, 107-85 for impeachment.
If Republicans succeed in their anti-democratic antics to remove an overwhelmingly popular District Attorney. They need two-thirds of a 29-21 Senate to agree that a politician who hasn’t been accused of any crime should be removed from office for obviously political reasons that belong left on the campaign trail.
Impeachment was only used on two other occasions to remove an official from office, both judges. A county judge in 1811 and a supreme court judge in 1994, a fact pointed out by Rep. Jason Dawkins, a member of the House Judiciary Committee from Philadelphia.
“The last person to be impeached was Guilty of actual criminal conduct,” Rep. Joseph Hohenstein told the Judiciary Committee before Tuesday’s vote. “This Article of Impeachment has asked us to stretch the definition of misbehavior in office outside of criminal conduct. But when we look at how impeachment has been handled over hundreds of years, we’ve never done that.”
The Impeachment resolution orders the majority to choose two impeachment managers and the minority to choose one. No timetable has been set for the trial in the Senate, and it is unclear how the new Democratic majority that takes over in January will affect any trial, which may not occur until then. The State Senate is currently on recess and not expected to gavel in until the new year.
Republican Rep. Martina White, whose district is in the North East section of Philadelphia and is a close ally of the Philadelphia Police Union, has been the main driver of the impeachment effort along with Republicans from Adams and Beaver Counties.
According to five separate sources present during caucus deliberations on Monday, Rep. White, with others representing the extreme right wing of the caucus, threatened to challenge current Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff if he didn’t put his stamp of approval on the move to take the Impeachment Resolution to the floor.
“If this is being used as some sort of political football inside caucus elections, that’s pretty damning; impeachment is a serious thing and shouldn’t be used in political gamesmanship,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU of Philadelphia.
White and Benningghoff’s offices issued seemingly coordinated responses denying contention within the caucus and reaffirming Republican’s intention “to Hold Krasner accountable.”
“The effort to hold DA Krasner accountable has been and remains about one thing – protecting lives and making sure Philadelphians can feel safe and be safe in their communities,” said Jason Gottesman, Press Secretary for the Majority Leader.
“When we were last in session, Leader Benninghoff said if Articles of Impeachment came out of the Judiciary Committee, they’d quickly move to the House Floor; today, he’s keeping his word on that commitment,” said White.
“No one has the right to set aside the laws of Congress or the General Assembly because they do not like the law. No one has that degree of absolute power,” said Rep. Tim Bonner, a former prosecutor turned Republican Representative in Mercer County.
Except as a former prosecutor, he knows that prosecutors have precisely that ability in the guise of prosecutorial discretion, which has a long history rooted in English Common Law and deeply rooted in American jurisprudence.
In United States V. Cox, the fifth Circuit states, “it is as an officer of the executive department that [the prosecutor] exercises a discretion as to whether or not there shall be a prosecution in a particular case.” Accordingly, the court reasoned that “it follows, as an incident of the constitutional separation of powers, that the courts are not to interfere with the free exercise of the discretionary powers of the attorneys of the United States in their control over criminal prosecutions.”
“This doesn’t fit any legal precedent in Pennsylvania or the entire country,” said former Philadelphia Prosecutor Rep. Mike Zabel. “Today’s resolution is a weaponization of our state constitution for political purposes; Philadelphia’s District Attorney has not committed an impeachable offense.
If this applies to courts, the precedent would equally apply to the legislature, where a separation of powers also exists.
“You don’t get to give prosecutors discretion and then tell them what that discretion is,” said Zabel.
The second charge in the Impeachment Resolution relates to documents the District Attorney’s office refused to hand over concerning office policy, files during an ongoing prosecution of a Philadelphia police officer that shot an unarmed black man, and grand jury material relating to the same prosecution.
All of which DA Krasner has argued in court would have been improper to turn over and, in the instance of the grand jury, material illegal to hand over.
The investigation and impeachment of Larry Krasner is part of a nationwide assault on progressive prosecutors seeking to make the criminal justice system more just. At times these attacks have been ripe with antisemitic language and anti-black racism.
“We just had an election where the hate and political fuckery seen here was a central issue, and the far-right lost that battle,” said Jamal Johnson, a prominent anti-gun violence advocate in Philadelphia. “You’d think they’d have the common sense to stop this nonsense and work to reduce the issues contributing to gun violence in Philly,”
Democrats point out state Republicans have voted down the majority of gun legislation and have, at times, actively worked to thwart efforts by Philadelphia specifically to reduce the prevalence of guns on our streets and strengthen our gun laws locally.