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Pa. House Republicans file articles of impeachment against Philly DA Larry Krasner

The House GOP announced the move Wednesday morning. It comes two days after a committee investigating his office released a critical report that did not recommend impeachment.

PA House Republicans said in a news release Wednesday morning that they will file articles of impeachment against Larry Krasner.
PA House Republicans said in a news release Wednesday morning that they will file articles of impeachment against Larry Krasner.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania House Republicans filed two articles of impeachment Wednesday against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, charging him with not adequately enforcing state laws and implementing policies they say have contributed to a spike in gun violence.

The charges say Krasner, a Democrat, engaged in “misbehavior in office” — which the state constitution says can be a basis for impeachment — and obstructed the efforts of a legislative committee investigating him.

State Rep. Martina White, a Republican who represents Northeast Philadelphia and is the prime sponsor of the impeachment legislation, said Wednesday that Krasner has “toppled the scales of justice in favor of criminals.” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) said Philadelphia residents are “prisoners of fear.”

“The increasing violence says to me, Enough is enough,” he said. “We must do something to help the people of Philadelphia.”

The legislation to impeach Krasner, announced Wednesday morning in Harrisburg by a sizable contingent of House GOP members, represented an extraordinary move less than two weeks before the midterm elections, which Republicans nationwide have tried to make about crime and rising violence in cities.

Democrats across the ideological spectrum slammed the impeachment drive and cast the effort as a politically motivated attempt to overturn the will of Philadelphia voters.

Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Krasner’s office, called the idea that Krasner obstructed the committee’s work a “lie” and referred to a petition he filed in Commonwealth Court in September saying the committee’s work is illegal. That challenge is pending.

» READ MORE: Philly DA Larry Krasner asked to address his impeachment committee in public. The panel said no.

In a written statement to the committee last week, Krasner defended his office’s handling of violent crime, saying gun violence has spiked over the last two years in other jurisdictions as well. He also said his office diverts some low-level offenders away from the criminal-justice system, unlike some of his predecessors, who he said relied “almost exclusively on the blunt instrument of jail and prison.”

“This is an effort to impeach someone for political purposes who has done nothing corrupt and nothing illegal because they want to erase Philadelphia’s votes,” he said during a news conference last week. “They want to impeach our ideas.”

It was not immediately clear Wednesday what steps Republicans might take next to advance the articles of impeachment. The Judiciary Committee — which would likely vote to send them to the full chamber — does not have any meetings scheduled, and the House is not due back in session until after next month’s election.

That schedule could change, but even some House members were left wondering when or if they might be summoned back to the Capitol.

If the impeachment is approved by a simple majority of the House — which is controlled by Republicans — the legislation would move to the state Senate, where a trial could be held. A conviction and removal from office would require a two-thirds vote.

One legal expert said the effort to remove Krasner from office — whenever it might begin — was unlikely to succeed.

The majority of what is set out in the articles of impeachment is not evidence of corruption or clear misbehavior in office, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University professor of state and federal constitutional law.

“Nobody has ever been impeached for this kind of stuff,” he said. “I think it’s a stunt.”

Benninghoff said he was confident a bipartisan majority of the House would vote to impeach Krasner. Dozens of Democrats joined Republicans in September to hold Krasner in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena.

One of them, State Rep. Danilo Burgos (D., Philadelphia), a member of the committee investigating Krasner, was stunned by Wednesday’s developments, saying, “There’s nothing that says that [Krasner] committed a crime.”

He said House Republicans have dictated what the committee investigated from the start.

“It’s starting to look like it’s been their plan all along to undermine the electoral process of the voters of Philadelphia,” he said. “The Republican leadership just wants to continue to create theatrical appearances.”

And State Rep. Jared Solomon (D., Philadelphia), who also voted for the contempt measure, said that while he disagrees with Krasner’s approach and thinks the DA is “failing the citizens of Philadelphia,” he hadn’t seen a “shred of evidence” that would rise to the level of impeachment.

He said that, assuming no additional evidence is presented, voting against impeaching Krasner would be one of the most important votes he’d ever cast.

“We’re constitutional officers,” he said. “You would be overturning the will of the majority.”

» READ MORE: Some Democrats are keeping their distance from Larry Krasner as Republicans make him their election boogeyman

Impeachment in Pennsylvania is exceedingly rare. The last time the process was used to oust a state official was in 1994, when Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen was removed for making legal decisions based on conversations with a lawyer who had supported him politically and after he was convicted in a drug-related conspiracy.

The impeachment filing comes two days after the committee investigating Krasner released a critical 63-page report that tied his office’s policies to rising rates of gun violence in the city. It highlighted issues including a declining conviction rate, an increasing number of firearms cases being withdrawn or dismissed, and high staff turnover.

The report did not accuse Krasner of criminal misconduct, and it did not recommend impeaching him.

The Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, formed in July to investigate Krasner’s office, has yet to issue its final report. The committee’s work is set to wrap up at the end of November.

The Republican-led committee was formed over the summer to investigate what its leaders called Krasner’s “dereliction of duty.” The members have pointed to escalating gun violence in Philadelphia, where last year there were 562 homicides, the most ever recorded in the city’s history. Homicides are continuing at a similar pace this year.

Members of the committee said they had a responsibility to try to determine what was contributing to that spike, and whether any of Krasner’s policies — or those of other law enforcement agencies in the city — played a role.

“As chairman, I do not enter this work with any predetermined outcome in mind. The committee will review the facts and follow them wherever they lead,” Rep. John Lawrence (R., Chester) said at the time.

Lawrence did not attend Wednesday morning’s news conference and could not be reached for comment.