U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, the chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, on Wednesday called state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane "asleep at the switch" and said he had no faith in his fellow Democrat as the state's top law enforcement officer.
The harsh assessment came a day after criminal charges were announced against two state lawmakers from Philadelphia in a bribery probe Kane had declined to prosecute.
Brady's comments were a clear sign of the political damage Kane has sustained within her own party from her handling of the corruption probe. The first Democrat and first woman to be elected attorney general, Kane had been touted as a future governor or U.S. senator, but many Democrats are now wondering if she should be reelected in 2016.
Brady's own support sounded less than ironclad.
"People make mistakes," he said. "There's plenty of time to see how she handles herself, but this is certainly a misstep. It looks like she was asleep at the switch."
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, also a Democrat, sharply criticized Kane on Tuesday, saying she had irresponsibly and without evidence asserted that the undercover investigation that led to the lawmakers' arrests had been tainted by racism. The elected officials caught on tape accepting money are African American.
State Reps. Vanessa Lowery Brown, 48, and Ronald G. Waters, 64, were charged with bribery and other offenses Tuesday in a case that Kane had ridiculed as "half-assed" and "dead on arrival."
Williams said both lawmakers admitted to grand jurors that they illegally pocketed cash from an undercover informant who was secretly taping them. Waters accepted $8,750 in nine payments, he said, and Brown accepted $4,000 in five installments.
The sting targeted five Philadelphia officials, all Democrats. One, Thomasine Tynes, a former Traffic Court judge, pleaded guilty Wednesday to accepting a $2,000 bracelet from the operative.
The sting also ensnared two other state representatives, Louise Williams Bishop and Michelle Brownlee, according to sources and investigative documents. No charges have been filed against them. They remain under grand jury scrutiny.
Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who spoke to reporters Wednesday in Philadelphia about the state's looming budget deficit, declined to address Williams' charges that Kane falsely stated that she had evidence of racial targeting to support her decision to drop it.
Wolf said that the entire case, which The Inquirer revealed in March that Kane had shut down, had exposed a "deficit in trust" in government.
"If we have people who have broken the rules, they need to be called to account, whoever they are," Wolf said.
Wolf criticized Kane for mishandling the probe in April, during the Democratic primary, and has issued a no-gifts policy for members of his incoming administration. He also has said the legislature should enact a gifts ban for its members.
Kane, of Scranton, had all but dared Philadelphia's Democratic district attorney to take on the scotched case this year after he publicly criticized her for having dropped it.
On Tuesday, as he announced charges against two of the lawmakers caught up in the state-run sting, Williams said Kane had ended the case either "out of pure incompetence, to gain political favor, or because of a grudge against other personalities."
Kane issued a statement Tuesday defending her decision as sound, but adding that "prosecutors disagree all the time on the merit of pursuing various cases."
On Wednesday, her spokeswoman said via text message that the attorney general would have no further comment.
Kane has defenders in the party and still has the considerable power inherent in her office as well as a public platform. On Wednesday, her office announced the indictment of 10 people in an alleged $1.2 million kickback scheme at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
"As you can see, this has not slowed down the state Attorney General's Office any," said Jim Burn of Pittsburgh, the state Democratic Party chairman. He said Williams' attacks were not helpful to party unity.
"I always discourage Democrats from taking shots at each other in the media," Burn said. "It doesn't help the institution."
Brady, who supported Kane's opponent in the 2012 primary, said her attempt to frame the shuttered investigation as too difficult to prosecute had backfired after Williams offered to take over the case and convene a grand jury.
"She challenged him," Brady said, "and he took the challenge."
The Philadelphia grand jury investigation of the sting continues.
Waters and Brown were just reelected to new two-year terms, and are scheduled to be sworn in along with other legislators Jan. 6.
Asked whether he believed Waters and Brown should resign, Brady said they "probably" would and declined to elaborate.
Brown's lawyer, Luther E. Weaver 3d, declined to comment when asked if she intended to resign.
"I have no comment on that or on what Mr. Brady says," Weaver said.
Waters' lawyer, Fortunato Perri Jr., could not be reached for comment.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) declined through a spokesman to comment on the charges against Waters and Brown. House Republicans also declined to comment.
Clancy Myer, the House parliamentarian, said that while the state constitution requires House members convicted of felonies to resign their seats, courts over the years have ruled that conviction is not complete until sentencing.
"Even though they may plead guilty or be found guilty of a crime, they are not required to relinquish their position until sentencing," Myer said. "Whether or not they choose to resign prior to that time, that's up to them."
He noted that former Democratic House Speaker Bill DeWeese, who was convicted of public corruption charges in 2012, resigned his position on the day he was sentenced.
Inquirer staff writers Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.