Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Fact-checking Bill McSwain’s campaign ads and statements as he runs for Pennsylvania governor

Several claims McSwain has made in TV ads and speeches about his tenure as U.S. attorney warrant further explanation.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.Read moreJose F. Moreno/ Staff Photographer

Bill McSwain built a reputation as U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia as a prosecutorial pundit — always ready for bare-knuckle political fights with Democrats.

He has built his campaign for Pennsylvania governor from that same model. The West Chester Republican describes himself as the man who took on “the most leftist, lawless jurisdiction in the country.”

Several claims he’s made about his tenure in campaign ads and speeches warrant further explanation.

McSwain on Philadelphia protests

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the U.S. Attorney’s Office under my leadership literally stopped Philadelphia from burning to the ground. … I stopped those riots because word got out that McSwain and the feds were charging people.” — McSwain in a Feb. 28 interview with AM 990′s Chris Stigall

McSwain’s office charged fewer than a dozen defendants with crimes related to the unrest in Philadelphia in late May and early June 2020, following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Most of those charges were filed well after the unrest had abated and involved police car arsons and attacks on ATM machines.

The vast majority of protest-related arrests moved through city courts, including charges against several hundred demonstrators and a handful of officers accused of using excessive force. District Attorney Larry Krasner dispatched more than 500 of those cases — the majority involving defendants accused of minor violations and who had no prior arrest history — through a pretrial diversion program.

McSwain on political corruption

“As President Trump’s U.S. attorney, I took down corrupt public officials and I jailed politicians who stuffed ballot boxes.” — McSwain TV ad

McSwain oversaw a robust public corruption unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office that secured convictions against dozens of government employees, contractors, and officials on bribery and related charges. But he didn’t directly oversee some of the most high-profile cases he takes credit for on the campaign trail.

McSwain recused himself from the bribery cases of figures such as labor leader John J. Dougherty and Philadelphia City Councilmembers Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson, because of potential conflicts of interest with his prior job at a law firm that had represented some of the defendants and organizations implicated in those cases.

Another case McSwain has taken credit for in interviews is the corruption conviction of former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. But Pawlowski’s trial ended in a guilty verdict a month before McSwain was sworn into office in April 2018. The former mayor’s sentencing and appeal did overlap with McSwain’s tenure.

» READ MORE: McSwain was ‘angling to run for something’ as U.S. attorney. Now his run for governor is all about his time as a prosecutor.

In TV ads, McSwain says he jailed “politicians who stuffed ballot boxes,” a reference to a 2020 case his office brought against former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers, who is charged with paying two South Philadelphia judges of elections to add votes for clients who hired him as a consultant.

That investigation, which centers on elections from 2014 to 2016, also began years before McSwain’s appointment, though the indictment was secured on his watch. The two election judges have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Myers — the only former politician charged in the case — remains free awaiting a trial set to begin in June.

McSwain on prosecution statistics

McSwain says he “doubled prosecutions of violent criminals” in his almost three years in office. — McSwain TV ad

Justice Department statistics show that in 2019, the first full year of McSwain’s tenure, his prosecutors secured 669 indictments — a 42% increase over the prior year’s 470.

And the total number of criminal cases filed during McSwain’s two-and-a-half-year tenure matches the last three years of his predecessor. Part of that can be blamed on the pandemic, which temporarily halted the federal grand jury process.

McSwain on the 2020 presidential election

“On Election Day and afterward, our office received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities. As part of my responsibilities as U.S. Attorney, I wanted to be transparent with the public and, of course, investigate fully any allegations. Attorney General [Bill] Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities.” — A June 9, 2021, letter from McSwain to former President Donald Trump

The claim that has caused the biggest waves among his former colleagues in Philadelphia and Washington is McSwain’s repeated allegation that he was frustrated in voicing his concerns about the 2020 election by top Justice Department officials.

He first made that charge in his letter to Trump, which the former president shared publicly last summer, falsely claiming the letter said McSwain was barred from investigating.

McSwain has repeated his claims since, while repeatedly dodging requests for specifics and questions over whether anything he saw as U.S. attorney would cause him to question the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election.

Several of his former prosecutors, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss investigations that did not lead to charges, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office uncovered no evidence of significant election improprieties.

There is no evidence of any significant fraud in Pennsylvania’s 2020 election.

» READ MORE: Bill McSwain tried to walk a political tightrope on Trump’s election lies. Bill Barr cut it.

With no case in Philadelphia supporting Trump’s false fraud claims, McSwain pitched the idea of holding a news conference in late 2020. He planned to add his voice to the chorus of GOP complaints about how Pennsylvania had administered its election, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Justice Department officials in Washington shot him down.

Barr pushed back on McSwain’s claim that he was ever stopped from investigating any election-related complaints in an interview with The Inquirer last year.

“He was in the thick of investigating stuff with me prodding him along,” the former attorney general said. What Barr objected to, he said, was that McSwain “wanted to not do the business of the department, which is to investigate cases, but instead go out and flap his gums about what he didn’t like about the election overall.”

McSwain declined requests to respond to Barr’s remarks.