Monday, May 23, 2011
Bill DeWeese's reputation as a lazy, self-absorbed showboat served him well in early 2007, when then-Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett was beginning his investigation of House Democrats.
Corbett claimed in February 2007 he was investigating the entire legislature, but he was lying. He wouldn't begin investigating House Republicans until much later, in response to accusations of partisanship, and apparently never did investigate the Senate at all.
In 2007, Corbett's main rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination would be U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, then garnering statewide headlines for his high-profile Vince Fumo prosecution. "Bonusgate" appeared to be Corbett's ticket to the show.
The problem was, Bill DeWeese was being a pain in the ass. He sought to quash subpoenas and claimed "legislative privilege" on materials seized through a search warrant.
He vowed to fight "all the way to the state Supreme Court." That could take months - maybe more than a year. Corbett's reelection and the unofficial launch of his gubernatorial campaign were imminent.
Enter "risk management" consultant (and Corbett campaign contributor) Bill Chadwick. Chadwick is the "Republican former prosecutor" DeWeese is always raving about having "hired to cooperate" with Corbett. Only DeWeese can fully explain why he continually harps on Chadwick's political affiliation.
But it may explain why Chackwick was able to negotiate an arrangement in which DeWeese turned over emails and documents incriminating his former colleague Mike Veon and others - including DeWeese's own Chief of Staff and other high- and mid-level DeWeese staffers.
DeWeese, in turn, was not charged in the Bonusgate scandal. And everyone got to pretend the previous months of legal challenges and obstructionism never happened. "I've been cooperating since Day One!" DeWeese lied, and no one corrected him.
We're not lawyers, but there doesn't appear to be anything illegal about such an arrangement. But it's hugely embarrassing for both parties. If DeWeese admits he engaged in machinations to avoid being indicted, he admits there was cause to indict him. And Corbett risks the appearance of sacrificing the integrity of his investigation for political expediency.
At first blush, the arrangement probably appeared risk-free for Corbett. It wasn't until after Corbett received the incriminating evidence that DeWeese's involvement in Bonusgate became apparent. And then there was DeWeese's reputation as a passive figurehead more interested in being wined and dined by lobbyists than managing the legislative or political affairs of the caucus.
It didn't help matters that one of Corbett's main sources of information about the workings of the caucus apparently was Frank Lagrotta, then desperately battling misconduct charges of his own. The same Lagrotta who recently pleaded guilty to drug charges.
The general public wasn't as gullible as Corbett. Before the indictments were announced, everyone expected DeWeese to go down. "It's hard to see how DeWeese survives Bonusgate" ... "The wrong folks lost their jobs in Harrisburg" ... "Is time running out for DeWeese?"
When the indictments failed to include DeWeese, the pundits were sure it was just a matter of time: "Cat-like DeWeese probably on his ninth life" ... "More questions raised on DeWeese's role."
Corbett found himself in a quandary. The evidence clearly showed letting DeWeese off the hook was a big mistake, and it didn't appear the public was going to overlook it.
Nor would Mike Veon's lawyers, who filed a massive pre-trial motion outlining DeWeese's involvement in the crimes for which Veon was accused.
Nor did it help that during a court proceeding, former DeWeese chief-of-staff Mike Manzo listed DeWeese as one of the legislators who had knowledge of the bonus "scheme." Oops! To guard against future slip-ups, sentencing of Manzo and his wife, Rachel, has been postponed - evidently until after DeWeese's trial. Has anyone ever heard of a defendant being offered a deal not to testify against his boss?
So, almost three years after launching his investigation, Corbett indicted DeWeese - not on charges involving bonuses or petition challenges or the use of a state-paid consultant for political work, all of which was detailed in media reports and Veon's pre-trial motion - but on less-serious accusations that his district office staff performed political work on state time and using state resources, and that he employed a full-time political operative using taxpayer funds.
Lest this be seen as some investigative triumph, Corbett could've chosen the name of any pre-2007 legislator out of a hat, subpoenaed records and questioned staff under oath, and had a better-than-average chance of discovering similarly questionable campaign activity. In fact, all he had to do was answer his phone.
It's no secret that DeWeese is apoplectic with chagrin over Corbett's perceived betrayal. And that's now a huge problem for Corbett.
It's clear that DeWeese would like nothing more than to harm Corbett politically, and admitting what happened back in 2007 would certainly accomplish that in spades. But DeWeese still believes he has a political future to protect. If the Attorney General's office is successful in convicting DeWeese of felony charges - and DeWeese is subsequently forced to resign from the House - it will remove the one incentive DeWeese has to keep mum. Unless, of course, there is a formal, legal immunity agreement which requires DeWeese's silence, but a DeWeese with nothing to lose might consider a contempt of court charge a fair price to pay for embarrassing his nemesis.