HARRISBURG - A judge overseeing the Bonusgate grand jury yesterday explored whether House Republicans had intentionally withheld e-mails and other records sought by state investigators, The Inquirer has learned.
The closed hearing before Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Barry F. Feudale was prompted by an apparently frustrated Attorney General Tom Corbett. He thinks GOP caucus lawyers are not handing over all records sought through subpoenas, said four sources who asked that their names be withheld because of the matter's secret nature.
Details of the hearing were sketchy, but several of the sources said the dispute centered on how the subpoenas were worded. Republican lawyers contend that they were written so broadly that it is difficult to determine exactly want prosecutors want.
How the matter was resolved yesterday was not clear, but it showed for the first time a rift between Corbett, a potential Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and legislative leaders of his party.
It also could contradict the mantra of House GOP leaders throughout the 22-month Bonusgate investigation, that they were cooperating fully with prosecutors.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, reiterated that position yesterday, but declined to discuss the hearing.
"The grand jury and its process is sealed, and we have been respecting that process," he said. "The fact that someone is talking is evidence that someone is breaking that seal."
Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary, declined to comment, citing grand-jury secrecy rules.
In July, Corbett charged 12 former and current House Democratic legislators and staffers with participating in a conspiracy to award taxpayer-funded bonuses to legislative staff who did campaign work.
Since then, the probe has widened to include House Republicans.
Among other things, investigators are examining whether Republican leaders, including former Speaker John M. Perzel of Philadelphia, used at least two multimillion-dollar taxpayer databases to improve their chances in elections.
No Republican has been charged, and Corbett has said no new charges would come before the new year.
One GOP source said investigators appeared to be exasperated because they had not unearthed evidence incriminating House Republicans, as they appear to have done with Democrats.
"They are not finding a smoking gun," the source said.
The July indictments detailed e-mails between Democratic aides laying out how staffers who worked hard on political campaigns would get bigger bonuses. The best were called "rock stars," according to the e-mails.