It’s not common to hear loud criticism of prosecutors who convict a pedophile on 45 of 48 counts. But that’s exactly what’s happening to Gov. Tom Corbett over the way he handled the case of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
On Wednesday, Pa. House Democrats made a statement. They sought to bring up debate on bill which would request the U.S. attorneys office review the time frame of the matter, specifically to determine whether the investigation was delayed for political reasons. Corbett was running for Governor at the time his office took the reins of the case, and appeared to move slowly on the investigation until after he won election in 2010.
A case that impugned Pa. institutions like Penn State football and Joe Paterno could have been a tough sell on the campaign trail.
It’s a non-binding resolution, but it was enough to force House Republicans into retreat. Speaker Sam Smith gavelled the end of session and the current status of the measure is unclear.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley called it a case of House Democrats “playing politics with an outstanding and complete investigation.”
“What they are doing,” he said, “is trying to victimize the victims again.”
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said he hoped to learn whether the timing of the investigation was manipulated to help Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign.
“I think it’s something we ought to look into,” he told reporters after the session ended, predicting if the resolution comes up for a vote it will pass overwhelmingly.
A recent poll from Franklin and Marshall showed why the issue is a weak spot for Republicans. Only 17 percent of respondents said they thought Corbett did a good or excellent job handling of the case while he was Attorney General. 49 percent said they’d like to see the whole thing reviewed by the next Attorney General.
It’s political gold if it can be used without seeming too exploitative. House Resolution 520 – which calls for more transparency – is a clever way to walk the line.
And Democrats are putting it to work. Press releases on the subject from Pa. House challengers are already coming in.
“As a person who touts being a former prosecutor and head of the sex crimes unit here in Montgomery County, I expected better from Representative Stephens,” said Rep. Todd Stephens’s (R-Montco) challenger Will Sylianteng. “In fact, he should be leading the charge into finding out whether prosecutorial misconduct actually occurred in the Attorney General’s office during the early stages of the Sandusky investigation.”
“When Jeff Pyle walked out in the middle of yesterday’s session to protect Governor Corbett, he turned his back on our kids,” echoed Jo Ellen Bowman, Pyle’s (R-Armstrong) challenger. “Unfortunately, Pyle has forgotten that his job is to work for Western Pennsylvania’s families, and not Harrisburg party bosses.”
That’s on top of Democratic Attorney General hopeful Kathleen Kane, who has been talking about Sandusky for her entire campaign.
“The reason it was probably politics is you look at all the other factors surrounding it,” Kane told the editorial board of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice. “You look at the amount of money that came into his campaign while this was going on from the Second Mile, from the Penn State board of trustees.”
“That’s a lot of money,” Kane continued. “So that’s one factor. You look at the timing. I mean if he wasn’t running for governor at the time, would he have put it in the grand jury? Would it have taken less time? You have to ask him that.”
Corbett and his spokesman have repeated high and low that a case against a popular public figure takes time; that the worst case scenario would be a rushed prosecution that let him go free. It also took time to encourage Sandusky’s victims to come forward.
“The jury verdict is a vindication of the thoroughness of that investigation,” Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told the Citizens Voice. “(Guilty verdicts on) 45 of 48 counts cannot be argued with.”
That won’t keep it from being a political topic this year, and during Corbett’s re-election bid in 2014. For decades, Pa. has alternated between two terms under a Democratic Governor, 2 terms under a Republican one. Democrats hope the Sandusky issue is big enough to end the trend.