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Pa. Republicans move to impeach Philadelphia's progressive prosecutor

The GOP-controlled Legislature is racing to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner ahead of the November elections.
Image: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks during a news conference on Jan. 31, 2022 in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner at a news conference Jan. 31.Matt Rourke / AP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Republicans announced Wednesday plans to impeach and potentially remove from office Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a national leader among progressive prosecutors who was overwhelmingly re-elected last year.

Krasner is not accused of committing a crime. Nor do his critics allege corruption. Instead, they accuse him of dereliction of duty for what they say is a failure to adequately enforce criminal laws, leading to rising crime rates and declining quality of life for Philadelphians.

The extraordinary move — the state Legislature has impeached only two officials in its entire history, in 1994 and 1811 — comes just two weeks before a midterm election in which Republicans have focused on crime while Democrats have highlighted threats to democracy from politicians willing to defy elections.

It also comes as progressive prosecutors and recent criminal justice reforms have faced blowback due to rising crime.

“I recognize the unprecedented nature of what must be done and am confident our members are up to the task,” Republican Rep. Martina White said at a news conference Wednesday announcing articles of impeachment at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, but White is the only GOP member from Philadelphia, which is on pace to break last year’s record-setting homicide rate

The rest hail from other, largely rural parts of the state.

“There should be a war on crime. But due to the failed vision and his idea of criminal justice, crime is allowed to wage war on the good people and the great beautiful city of Philadelphia," Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said of Krasner at the news conference.

Pennsylvania’s Constitution gives the Legislature broad power to impeach “all civil officers” for “any misbehavior in office,” though it has almost never exercised that authority.

“It’s clear under the Constitution that 'misbehavior in office' is the standard,” said Republican Rep. Torren Ecker, when asked by reporters what impeachable offense Krasner had committed. “Failing to do his duty and uphold the law — that is the very definition of misbehavior.”

The Legislature is scheduled to recess the Wednesday before the Nob. 8 election, but Republican leaders said they will add extra days to the calendar if necessary to make sure an impeachment vote happens as soon as possible.

They insisted the move against Krasner and its timing is not about politics, but about the need to offer some relief to Philadelphians struggling against crime every day.

“Our caucus has been constantly concerned with crime. It has nothing to do with the election,” Benninghoff said.

Krasner traveled to Harrisburg Friday to try to meet with GOP leaders and protest the anticipated impeachment articles.

"This is an effort to impeach someone for political purposes who has done nothing corrupt and nothing illegal because they want to erase Philadelphia’s votes, straight up," he said. "They want to impeach our ideas."

Krasner noted that the state Legislature has taken no action against a Republican district attorney in western Pennsylvania's Somerset County who was arrested last year on rape charges (he has pleaded not guilty and a trial is expected in January) and then again this year in an alleged road rage incident targeting a witness in the first incident (he pleaded guilty to lesser charges).

"There is no effort whatsoever to even look at the possibility of an impeachment of this man," Krasner said of the Somerset prosecutor, who was suspended last year but is now suing the county for back pay because his lawyer argues he can only be terminated by impeachment.

As with the federal impeachment process, a simple majority vote of the state House is needed to impeach. The case then moves to the state Senate for a trial, where a two-thirds majority is required to convict and remove from office.

Benninghoff said he had been in discussion with Senate leaders, but offered no guidance on the timing of the trial and suggested it will likely have to wait until after the election.

image: Fists are raised as activists rally outside the District Attorneys Office on December 12, 2018 to call on DA Larry Krasner to not appeal a recent decision of PA Supreme Court Justice Tucker in Philadelphia.
Activists rally outside the Philadelphia district attorney's office on Dec. 12, 2018. Bastiaan Slabbers / Getty Images

The GOP leader said he expects bipartisan support for the impeachment vote.

Krasner does have some vocal critics among Philadelphia’s largely Black and entirely Democratic political class. And two of the five members of the legislative select committee that has been investigating Krasner are Democrats.

But most Democrats, including some of Krasner’s old critics, are outraged by the notion that Republicans from other parts of the state could oust a recently re-elected Philadelphia official simply because they do not approve of the way he does his job.

“It’s another attack on our democracy. They tried it in 2020 here in Pennsylvania and they’re trying to do it again here now,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Kendra Brooks. “If we allow this to happen, it sets a precedent across the commonwealth that if they disagree with the policies of any elected official, they have the right to come after you and overturn the will of the people.”