Here at CasablancaPA headquarters, we're fielding lots of questions from readers about why the media has virtually ignored the trial of former House Republican Whip Brett Feese and his aide, Jill Seaman.
We did a quick Internet search, comparing press coverage of the trial of a former House GOP whip accused in a $20 million scandal with the trial of a former House Democratic Whip accused in a scandal involving less than $2 million, and discovered the following:
- The Tribune-Review published about 70 stories during the trial of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, compared with about 16 during the Feese trial.
- The Post-Gazette published about 53 stories during the Veon trial, compared with about 5 during the Feese trial.
- The Inquirer published about 57 stories during the Veon trial, compared with about 8 during the Feese trial
We must admit, those results were worse than even we expected. But we're not surprised at the dearth of media coverage. Governor Tom Corbett, who conducted both "investigations," wanted this outcome, engineered this outcome, and the media happily complied.
The Capitol Stenographers Corps no doubt disagrees with our assessment, though we've yet to hear a cogent explanation for the disparity in coverage. We're sure they don't even realize they're being manipulated.
But the fact is, even though Corbett claimed for months beginning in February 2007 that he was investigating all four legislative caucuses, we now know that he didn't begin investigating House Republicans in earnest until October 2008. That was when contempt hearings were held to force the caucus to comply with subpoenas issued a full year earlier.
The Capitol Stenographers Corps has yet to grasp the significance of the delay in the investigation, even as they backhandedly acknowledged that Corbett was lying throughout 2007 and early 2008 about a four-caucus investigation. They continued to explain away the delay with another lie: that Corbett had to investigate House Democrats first because he thought they were destroying evidence. We know Corbett didn't act on that erroneous belief until August of 2007, six months into a Democrats-only investigation, all the while insisting he was investigating all four caucuses.
It astounds us how smoothly the pack narrative slid from the false "he's investigating all four caucuses" to the equally false "he had to investigate House Democrats first," without even a pause to acknowledge the months of lying or to point out how absurdly incompetent and self-destructive it would be to conduct a highly-publicized investigation of one caucus with the intention of going after the other caucuses at some point in the future.
Only Democratic Attorney General Candidate John Morganelli pointed out that even a fool would expect evidence to disappear: "If I have four potential targets, and I think they all might be involved in the same thing, and if I go to house A and take all the evidence out and wait two years to go after B, C and D, there’s not going to be any evidence in B, C and D," he said.
He was right, of course, as Corbett's presentment against John Perzel and House Republican staff makes clear, though don't hold your breath waiting for anyone in the mainstream media to acknowledge it.
But nobody, not even the Capitol Stenographers Corps, can possibly believe that Corbett was stupid enough to expect House Republicans and both Senate caucuses to sit on their hands and wait more than two years for investigators to come a-calling.
Throughout 2007 and most of 2008, Corbett had no intention ever of pursuing charges against anyone in the House Republican Caucus or the Senate. There is simply no way he would have allowed House Republicans to replace their computers if he had. He would not have blithely continued to accept fundraising help from Brian Preski. He would not have held political meetings with Perzel. He would not have waited an entire year to force compliance with subpoenas that were issued three weeks after such a meeting with Perzel. He would not have accepted indirect campaign contributions from Senate Republicans. These actions, if Corbett indeed had intended to pursue charges against Republicans, would be both breathtakingly stupid and undeniably corrupt.
The only alternative explanation is that Corbett never intended to pursue charges against House Republicans or anyone in the Senate. He believed that he could get away with indicting one sitting rank-and-file Democratic representative who just happened to be running for a competitive Senate seat, one former representative already reviled statewide for the pay-raise controversy, and 10 staff members and be hailed as the conquering hero of legislative corruption.
At first, Corbett thought he could deflect suspicion about his partisanship by leaking hints about a nascent investigation of Republicans. In October 2007, a Capitolwire column suggested Corbett's political ties to the Republican legislature might inhibit Corbett's investigation, and a Morning Call editorial endorsed Morganelli's call for an independent prosecutor. The next day, the Associated Press reported that House Republicans had at last received a subpoena for records. We now know Corbett and his campaign manager had met with Perzel three weeks earlier. It had, by then, been 10 months since Corbett announced his investigation. The House Republican Caucus had replaced all its computers months earlier.
But the pressure continued to mount. In January 2008, Morganelli accused Corbett of “conflicts of interest” in a Tribune-Review article, which also detailed contributions from Republican lawmakers to Corbett's campaigns. Shortly afterward, the news emerged that a subpoena for records had been issued to Senate Republicans (Patriot-News 2/13/08) The turning point appears to have come around Aug. 3, 2008, when the Patriot-News published an analysis headlined “Is state bonus probe partisan?” In a Tribune-Review article published three days later, Governor Ed Rendell urged Corbett to reveal by election day whether Republicans would be charged as well. The Chambersburg Public Opinion editorialized the next day that Rendell had a pretty good point. By October, Team Corbett was explaining to House Republicans that no, they really were serious about those subpoenas they'd issued the year before.
It's easy for the Capitol Stenographers Corps to avoid seeing the patterns of Corbett's politically-motivated prosecutions when they're stretched out over five years. And prosecutors have been fairly successful in leading the press to treat the $20 million, eight-year House Republican corruption scheme as an afterthought to the House Democrats $1.4 million, four-year bonus program. But a full-blown dog-and-pony show the likes of last year's "Bonusgate" trial might have laid out the facts in a pattern too obvious even for the Corps to deny. That's why prosecutors were so motivated to get Preski and Perzel to agree to plea deals. They certainly didn't need them to testify - although Perzel got on the stand, the best he could do against defendant Feese was, "He had to know because everyone knew." Hardly a smoking gun. We doubt the public will find out anytime soon how sweet Preski and Perzel's deals are. Almost two years after entering a plea in the "Bonusgate" case, Mike Manzo, former Chief of Staff to craven liar Bill Deweese, has yet to be sentenced. But the deals were motivated by Corbett's desire to deflect media attention to the trial. And it worked.
We at CasablancaPA have a theory about why the Capitol Stenographers Corps are so willing to turn a collective blind eye to Corbett's ethical lapses and political opportunism. When a child suspects there's a monster under her bed, she hides her head under the covers rather than lean over to see. Because once you're looking it square in the face, what are you going to do about it?