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Pa. House to investigate Philly DA Larry Krasner’s office as Republicans hunt for impeachable offenses

Four Democrats, three of them from Philadelphia, voted in favor of the resolution.

District Attorney Larry Krasner at a news conference.
District Attorney Larry Krasner at a news conference.Read moreThe Philadelphia Inquirer-Tribca

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted largely along party lines Wednesday to form a committee with subpoena power to investigate Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office as state Republicans look for a reason to impeach the progressive prosecutor.

The measure passed, 114-86, with four Democrats voting in favor: State Reps. Kevin Boyle, Ed Neilson, and Joe Hohenstein of Philadelphia; and Frank Burns of Cambria County. Republicans seized on those votes to describe the measure as passing with bipartisan support.

The effort comes as the first step in a highly unusual effort to introduce articles of impeachment against Krasner, a Democrat, over what critics have called his dereliction of duty in addressing Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis. Krasner has dismissed the effort as a “farce” and a political stunt that is potentially unconstitutional.

A resolution to take steps toward potential impeachment was introduced this week by State Rep. Joshua Kail, a Republican who represents Beaver and Washington Counties southwest of Pittsburgh. Kail is one of three GOP legislators — none from the Philadelphia area — who have said they plan to present articles of impeachment against Krasner.

The vote followed emotional comments from some Philadelphia Democrats who decried the Republicans’ move to form the committee and said their GOP colleagues should instead focus on passing legislation that would provide solutions to the city’s unrelenting gun violence crisis.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski, a Democrat from Philadelphia, called the measure “a dangerous resolution that would undermine the residents of Philadelphia.” State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia said it was a “sad day in this chamber.”

“I want you to join me on this field of getting serious about gun violence,” Kenyatta said. “But this is a show, this is a game.

“When this is over, a lot of members on this side are going to actually go home to Philadelphia. When this is over, I’m gonna go to a neighborhood where the threat of gun violence is not hypothetical,” he said. “I won’t be driving out west to Beaver County.”

Any effort to impeach Krasner would require evidence of corruption or clear misbehavior in office, experts say — not simply political or ideological disagreements over how he manages his office and prosecutes crime. It would also require the state House to approve impeachment by a majority vote, then the state Senate would hold a trial, and conviction would require a two-thirds vote. Republicans do not hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate and would have to sway Democrats to support the effort.

With the measure’s passing, a “Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order” will be formed, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats selected by the speaker of the House. The group will investigate, review, and draft a report on Krasner’s tenure amid Philadelphia’s rise in violent crime; the enforcement and prosecution of crimes; the use of public funds for that purpose; and his office’s treatment of victims, among other things.

The committee may make recommendations for the impeachment or removal of other elected officials should any potential evidence uncovered show wrongdoing.

Rep. Martina White, a Philadelphia Republican and the former head of the city GOP, supported the resolution and said Philadelphia Democrats have done a poor job addressing rising crime.

“It is not about the charges being brought, it is about cases being withdrawn and tossed aside,” White said. “We need to take a closer look at this issue because the leaders of Philadelphia, they’re failing families.”

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, quoted various Philadelphia officials who have criticized Krasner, including former Mayor Michael Nutter who said: “If the DA does not have the fortitude or the guts to carry out these duties, he should resign and turn things over to someone who is not trying to sell Philadelphia on the false choice of either having public safety or police reform. Philadelphians can have and deserve both.”

The House vote followed a recommendation from the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Democrats have criticized the Judiciary Committee for failing to act on gun-control laws. On Tuesday, just before passing the resolution to investigate Krasner, the group substantially altered a bill that would have required background checks for all firearms sales in the state.

DA spokesperson Jane Roh said Tuesday that GOP lawmakers “don’t want Pennsylvanians to know that they’re working overtime to flood gun-saturated communities with even more unregulated firearms.”

The DA’s Office has filed criminal charges in 98% of the illegal gun cases police recommended for prosecution in 2020, Roh said, and in 99% of the gun cases police sent its way in 2021. The office’s conviction rate, though, fell from 63% in 2017 to 49% in 2019.