Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The Pa. House voted to hold Philly DA Larry Krasner in contempt for defying a subpoena

The action represents the latest escalation in a heated impeachment effort being led by Republican legislators in Harrisburg.

District Attorney Larry Krasner at a news conference on Monday.
District Attorney Larry Krasner at a news conference on Monday.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The Pennsylvania House voted Tuesday to hold Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by a legislative committee searching for grounds to impeach him.

The chamber voted 162-38 — with support from 10 Philadelphia Democrats — to approve the resolution holding the city’s top prosecutor in contempt, a highly unusual move that even the measure’s sponsor told House colleagues he had never seen before.

State Rep. John Lawrence — a Republican who represents parts of Chester and Lancaster Counties and chairs the select committee investigating Krasner — said the DA had “willfully neglected” the subpoena and was treating it like “a worthless piece of paper.”

“What is at issue today is nothing less than the institutional authority” of the legislative body, Lawrence said.

And although any enforcement action would require another House vote, a spokesperson for Krasner quickly decried the resolution as improper, rushed, and “undemocratic.”

“This is yet another misleading and outrageous attack on American democracy and the rule of law,” said the spokesperson, Jessica Brand.

The vote represents the latest escalation in a heated impeachment effort being led by Republican legislators in Harrisburg, who have criticized Krasner, a Democrat, for his reform-oriented policies and said those policies have contributed to the city’s gun violence crisis. Krasner has denied that and defended his office.

It also comes less than 60 days before members are up for reelection in a midterm that has been defined from the local level to the national level partly by the issue of rising crime.

Several Philadelphia Democrats said Tuesday that they voted in favor of the contempt measure on grounds far more narrow than the broader inquiry.

“At the end of the day, the question was: ‘Did he not comply with the subpoena, and is he in contempt?’” said State Rep. Mary Isaacson, who represents portions of Center City, Northern Liberties, and Fishtown. “And the answer is yes.”

Jared Solomon, of Northeast Philadelphia, offered a pointed comparison, saying Krasner’s defiance was “exactly the same” as that of Steve Bannon, the longtime confidant to former President Donald Trump who was convicted of contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas in its investigation of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

“It’s about the constitutional powers that we as an institution have, and whether the law is to be respected or not,” Solomon said.

The Republican-controlled House moved largely along party lines in June to investigate the possibility of impeaching Krasner over what critics called his “dereliction of duty” in addressing Philadelphia’s gun violence. The next month, the Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order was formed. And in August, it issued a subpoena seeking documents as part of its bid to investigate Krasner’s office.

Krasner responded by lambasting the committee as “illegal” and politically motivated, saying he would not produce documents in response to its request. He also said some of what the committee sought — including the disclosure of grand jury materials — would require his office to break the law in order to comply.

Earlier this month, Krasner filed a petition in Commonwealth Court seeking to block the subpoena, calling it and the committee’s work “an improper and antidemocratic effort by House members to try to impeach and remove from office a duly-elected local executive official because they do not like his policies and they cannot defeat him at the ballot box.”

Brand, Krasner’s spokesperson, said Tuesday that the contempt vote was a misguided attempt to bypass the courts, which she called the appropriate venue to determine the validity of the subpoena.

“[R]ather than let legal proceedings play out, the House rushed through a contempt proceeding with no notice and gave the duly and overwhelmingly elected District Attorney no time or opportunity to defend himself,” Brand said.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton, the Pennsylvania House Democratic leader who represents parts of Philadelphia and Delaware County, told her House colleagues on the floor Tuesday that the resolution was being “railroaded” through the chamber in a manner that violated normal procedures and didn’t provide proper time for public input.

“Here we are … violating due process and violating our own House rules,” McClinton said. “There is no reason that we must fast-track this resolution.”

Motions to postpone a vote — introduced by McClinton and State Rep. Jason Dawkins, a Philadelphia Democrat — were unsuccessful.

State Rep. Jordan Harris, a West Philadelphia Democrat, said afterward that the measure was written and approved within an hour — which he said was far too little time. He also said his Republican colleagues have failed to take up gun-safety measures that could have a more direct impact on the city’s violence crisis.

“Are we seriously trying to address the issue, or is there something else going on here?” he said.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski, who represents parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia, agreed, calling the vote “political theater.”

”This vote was not actually about safety. It was not about Philadelphia,” Krajewski said. “The whole impeachment thing with Larry has never actually been about safety of Philadelphians or whether or not he’s doing his job. It’s about using him as a political pawn because we’re in an election year.”

Of the 25 House seats currently filled in Philadelphia, 10 Democrats voted yes, 13 voted no, and one member was not present. The city’s lone Republican — Martina White, a frequent Krasner critic — supported it.

It remained unclear Tuesday what impact the contempt finding might have on the committee’s investigation.

What is certain is that any move toward impeachment is likely to be a protracted and contentious process. To succeed, the state House would have to approve the impeachment proposal by a majority vote, and the state Senate would then hold a trial, after which a conviction would require a two-thirds vote.

Staff writers Julia Terruso and Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.