Thursday, November 19, 2009
A TALE OF TWO INVESTIGATIONS
*Attorney General Tom Corbett is looking at "the entire bonus issue," which includes payments awarded to hundreds of staffers in the House and Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses, said spokesman Kevin Harley. (Harrisburg Patriot-News, Feb. 14, 2007)
*A change in [House Republican] computer systems coincided with word that an investigation was underway ... all GOP desktop computers were replaced from July 17 to Sept. 6 last year at the Capitol and from Sept. 24 through Nov. 2 at district offices. (Harrisburg Patriot-News, Aug. 3, 2008)
*The attorney general's investigators were consulted about the changeover of computers... (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Oct. 16, 2008)
*Democratic attorney general candidate John Morganelli's charge that House Republicans probably destroyed records in the investigation of legislative bonuses is borderline slander, the state House GOP leader [Sam Smith] said Wednesday. (Ibid.)
*Agents and attorneys traveled to New Orleans and Washington, DC as part of the efforts required reconstructing the extensive amounts of pertinent evidence that was reportedly missing from the Caucus. (28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Presentment, page 3, footnote)
*The full extent of RIT’s work and expenditures on behalf of campaigns may never be fully realized due to the significant amount of missing emails and documents. (Ibid., page 48)
*The grand jury obtained important testimony from the operators and employees of GCR and significant evidence – missing or not produced by the Caucus – was recovered from GCR. (Ibid., page 50)
*Missing and incomplete information from within the Republican Caucus has led to the exercise of significant efforts to acquire pertinent information from sources outside of the Caucus. (Ibid., page 178)
*State Attorney General Tom Corbett, now running for governor, met with state Rep. John Perzel, of Philadelphia, at a Harrisburg hotel in October 2007. Two months later, Brian Preski, Perzel's former chief of staff, organized a campaign fundraiser for Corbett. (Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 12, 2009)
*The Perzel meeting and Preski fundraiser came "at a time when we didn't have all the facts in front of us ... There has been very little contact with these individuals since that period of time, once we understood where everything was going with this investigation," Corbett added. (Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 17, 2009)
Once again, we are faced with the question of whether Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett is full of bovine excrement, or simply breathtakingly, mind-numbingly incompetent.
On the one hand, there is the possibility that he was, in fact, conducting an earnest, thorough investigation of the House Republican Caucus throughout the summer and autumn of 2007, as he claims, and actually told them, "Sure, go ahead and get rid of your computers. I'm sure there's nothing on there we'll need."
It's also possible that he was eight months deep into his investigation of House Republicans when he met privately with Perzel in October 2007, and ten months deep when Preski hosted his fundraiser in December 2007, but Corbett didn't quite understand who the heck Perzel and Preski were. He didn't "have all the facts in front of" him, after all.
Or, there's the possibility that he simply was not investigating the House Republicans when all that happened, despite his claims to the contrary.
The 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, which indicted Perzel and Company, didn't even convene until March 2008.
The realization that indicting Republicans (or at least creating the illusion of a real investigation) would be a political necessity appears to have crept upon Corbett gradually. It wasn't until Oct. 23, 2007, the day after critical editorials appeared on Capitolwire and in The Morning Call, that the Associated Press reported that Corbett had issued subpoenas for House R records.
As the presentment makes clear, the records were long gone by then - thanks to Corbett giving House Republicans the go-ahead to ditch their computers three months prior.
The subpoenas were issued about three weeks after Corbett and his campaign manager met privately with Perzel.
It's hard to know whether the announcement represented a sincere effort to gather evidence - since Corbett knew by then the computers had been replaced - or whether it was simply intended to dampen the flickering suspicion about the evenhandedness of his investigation.
Contempt hearings "held for the purpose of forcing the caucus into compliance with subpoenas and court orders" did not take place until October 2008, a full year after the subpoenas were issued.
About two months before issuing suboenas for House Republican records, Corbett executed a search warrant on the House Democratic Caucus. The boxes of documents, which were the object of the search, had recently been moved from a basement storage room in order to create more office space. Republican documents had been stored in the basement as well; Corbett's investigators had to have learned that when they interviewed Democrats about the boxes. But Corbett never executed a search warrant for those. Instead, he waited six months and issued a subpoena for them in February 2008.
Even though Corbett immediately learned the boxes had vanished, it doesn't appear that House Republican staffers were interviewed until late July 2008, at the earliest, according to the Post-Gazette.
We're willing to believe that by then, Corbett was intent on finding a way to indict some Republicans. At some point he must have realized his gubernatorial hopes would be dashed if he didn't. We only wish we could have seen the expression on his face when he realized he was going to need all that data he allowed the House Republicans to discard the year before.
The Fourth Estate is only beginning to view Corbett with the skepticism appropriate for political candidates rather than the reverence reserved for heroes, but it may be too late ever to learn the truth. The words of Tom Knox bear repeating: "Unfortunately, Pennsylvanians will never know who was not charged or investigated as the attorney general seeks to solidify GOP support in his primary campaign for governor."