Tuesday, January 18, 2011
THE KILLER RABBITS OF CAERBANNOG - ER, HARRISBURG
History books will bear out that Tom Corbett as Pennsylvania attorney general brought down some of the most powerful lawmakers in the state. -- Patriot-News (1/18/11)
Only if the history books are based upon the erroneous reporting of the Patriot-News.
Need we remind you (and apparently, we need), Tom Corbett charged precisely one legislative leader in his entire four-year investigation of the legislature? And only after it became crystal clear that political reality required charging him with something. (Ironically, the indictment of this singular "powerful" lawmaker followed a concerted effort on the part of both Corbett and the lawmaker in question to persuade the public he held almost no power at all.)
It's beyond question at this point that the scope of Corbett's investigation originally extended no further than the House Democrats. After all, as Corbett's 2008 opponent for Attorney General John Morganelli pointed out - and as Corbett's own subsequent investigation confirmed - launching a very public investigation of one caucus could only serve as an opportunity for the other caucuses to destroy evidence and devise obstructions.
As we know, Corbett's original indictments - and but for public outcry, his only indictments - included a single sitting legislator, a rank-and-file sophomore who was not even implicated in the main allegations of the case. How brave of Corbett! Rep. Sean Ramaley, who oh-so-coincidentally was a candidate in a competitive state Senate race, was acquitted of every charge in the whisper-thin case against him.
As far as can be discerned from Corbett's own presentment against House Republicans, his office did not even pretend to investigate in earnest until July 2008 at the very earliest. It's true he served House Republicans with a subpoena for records in February 2008 - a full year after announcing that he would investigate all four caucuses. But the frenzy of obstruction that followed those subpoenas does not appear to have come to Corbett's attention before at least late July, when Corbett's office allegedly began interviewing House Republican staffers. It was not reported that subpoenas were issued until mid-August, well after headlines such as "Is State Bonus Probe Partisan?" and "Rendell has a good point on Bonusgate parity issue," had begun cropping up around the state.
And when political necessity forced Corbett to indict Republicans, so he could claim to be even-handed, did he indict any "powerful" members of House Republican leadership? Don't be ridiculous; he again indicted a single rank-and-file member.
By what measure does the Patriot-News claim that Corbett "brought down some of the most powerful lawmakers in the state?" While Mike Veon, John Perzel and Steve Stetler may once have held positions of influence in the legislature, by the time Corbett set his sights on them, they'd long been deposed from any legislative power they once had. Veon and Stetler weren't even members of the legislature anymore, and Perzel had long been demoted. Among the three of them, they controlled exactly one vote. Saying Corbett brought down powerful lawmakers is like beating up the 70-year-old Muhammad Ali and claiming to have defeated the heavyweight champion of the world. Only House Democratic Whip Bill DeWeese could arguably be described as a "powerful lawmaker," and Corbett very pointedly avoided charging him until political necessity forced his hand. (And we reserve judgment on whether Corbett even now has "brought him down." Office pool odds favor DeWeese never even going to trial. But we shall see.)
Perhaps the Patriot-News was bamboozled by Corbett's feints at House Democratic Leader Todd Eachus. According to a well-timed leak, Eachus allegedly was invited to testify to the grand jury. And why not? Email evidence and grand jury testimony certainly implicated Eachus in political work on the state dime. But whether Corbett never really was investigating Eachus or abandoned whatever investigation he started, he certainly can't claim to have "brought down" Eachus. Nor can he claim to have "brought down" then-House Republican Leader (now Speaker) Sam Smith.
The tale of Corbett's Bonusgate investigation is certainly full of sound and fury, told by ...um, journalists... and signifying, if not nothing, then a whole lot less than the "journalists" make it out to be.