Pennsylvania House Republicans on Wednesday formally introduced articles of impeachment for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
The long-anticipated move came not from the panel formed last summer to investigate Krasner, but via a totally separate legislative resolution introduced by Martina White, the sole Republican state rep from Philadelphia.
“I am asking for elected officials all across the state to put politics aside and do the right thing,” White said at a Harrisburg press conference. She called Krasner “derelict in his duty,” and placed the onus for the city’s violence epidemic squarely on his shoulders, claiming that he has “tipped the scales of justice in favor of criminals.”
The third term rep from Northeast Philly noted that the committee formed to investigate Krasner — the Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order — would continue its work even as the the impeachment legislation she sponsored makes its way to the House floor.
The committee recently released a second interim report, which decried Krasner’s leadership but stopped short of recommending impeachment, saying that decision would be left for its final report still to come.
“It’s quite possible that additional articles are forthcoming,” White said.
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One Democratic member of the select committee, which was instigated by and is controlled by Republicans, on Wednesday indicated he doesn’t believe impeachment is warranted — and that he didn’t even know today’s announcement was coming.
Rep. Danilo Burgos, also from Philly, told The Inquirer that “there’s nothing that says that [Krasner] committed a crime,” which would warrant impeachment in his eyes. He called the GOP press conference one of a series of “theatrical appearances.” Burgos was absent from the impeachment hearings held in Philly late last month.
Republican members of the committee, on the other hand, appeared to be aware this separate resolution would be introduced. Krasner also saw it coming; he predicted last Friday that articles of impeachment could come this week.
White’s resolution will move through the standard legislative process, going through the Judiciary Committee then onto the House floor for a vote. A simple majority in favor would move the articles on to the state Senate, where an impeachment trial would be set up.
The timing here is complicated, as there’s only three session days left in the legislative session and less than two weeks before the midterm elections. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said the matter would be handled in a timely manner, and discounted the idea that the timing of the resolution was meant to have political ramifications.
Here’s what to know about the next steps in the process of Krasner’s possible impeachment.
What the articles of impeachment state
There were two articles of impeachment put forth:
- Article 1 was based on Krasner’s policies and practice as Philly DA
- Article 2 was based on Krasner’s lack of participation with the impeachment process.
Though the resolution was not issued by the select committee, it largely referenced the hearings it held and the information it put out — especially the committee’s second interim report, released on Monday.
The report included the following observations, conclusions, and allegations:
- That the number of cases withdrawn or dismissed in Philadelphia courts has more than doubled since 2016, when 30% of “all offenses” resulted in a dismissal or withdrawal, per the report, versus 67% of cases in 2021, and 65% to date in 2022.
- That the high turnover when Krasner took office — when more than 30 assistant district attorneys were fired — “purged” the DAO of “institutional knowledge.”
- That a variety of Krasner’s policies — from bail guidelines to changes in charging standards to listing select PPD officers as unreliable witnesses — directly contributed to crime.
These and other statements and findings from the report were included in White’s resolution, which ran 22 pages long and alleged that Krasner’s “lack of proper leadership serves as a direct and proximate cause of the crisis currently facing the City of Philadelphia.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Krasner said that “real solutions” such as banning ghost guns, red flag laws, prevention efforts, and universal background checks for firearms and ammo, are going unmentioned through the course of the investigation. These are potential actions that Philly politicians have been attempting and asking for more local jurisdiction over for years now.
There was no mention of the wide berth for prosecutorial discretion, a DA’s power to make and change policy. This discretion had been repeatedly stressed by Bruce Antkowiak, the legal professor that the select committee requested testimony from for September’s public hearings.
In a submitted summary of that testimony, Antkowiak wrote that the commonwealth has traditionally allowed “the electorate to have the final word on whether the policies of a given district attorney are in accord with their liking and should continue for another term in office.” That tradition was not mentioned in the resolution forwarding articles of impeachment.
At the press conference, Rep. Torren Ecker, a committee member from Adams County, explained why the panel believes Krasner doesn’t need to be accused of a crime to be removed.
“Misbehavior in office is the standard,” said Ecker. “That doesn’t mean there’s a conviction, that doesn’t require a criminal act.” Ecker said the articles of impeachment will “clearly define” the impeachment-worthy misbehavior Krasner has engaged in.
The resolution referenced the 1994 impeachment trial of state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen. In his defense, Larsen argued for a narrow definition of “misbehavior in office,” which, if accepted and applied, would not apply to the claims against Krasner. Per White’s resolution, the Commonwealth Court did not find that an acceptable defense.
House Republicans believe the definition is broad enough to include officials who are acting against their elective duty — in this case, they believe that defines Krasner. That’s the basis for the first of two articles of impeachment.
The second article references a refusal by Krasner to provide evidence subpoenaed by the panel. The DA’s Office argued the materials requested were “protected from disclosure by grand jury secrecy laws” and beyond the powers of the committee to seek.
What happens next
Having been referred to the Judiciary Committee, the resolution will go through the standard approval process and be moved to the floor.
Given that the Republican controlled House only needs a majority, it’s very likely that the articles of impeachment will be approved. If that occurs, it’s up to the state Senate to preside over an impeachment trial, with rules and regulations that the body determines.
With three session days left in the legislative session, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said that the speaker of the house “is willing to extend [session] days if need be” to get a vote on the matter.
‘[When] the bill comes out of committee, you’d better believe darn well it’s coming to the floor, and we will vote on it,” he said.
“Something needs to be done,” Benninghoff said, about the separate impeachment action that went around the panel already ostensibly set up for this purpose. “And our only option, predominantly, as a state legislature … is to not stick our head in the sand like a lot of other people and do nothing and hope this suddenly gets better.”
Homicides have risen every year Krasner has been in office, including a huge pandemic-connected spike that was experienced in many U.S. cities. This year to date, there have been 3,447 shooting incidents, up 0.61% from last year. There have been 438 homicides this year, down 3% from this date in 2021.
What’s Krasner’s response?
In Friday’s discussion with reporters in Harrisburg where he predicted articles of impeachment were incoming, Krasner said that “there is no integrity to this process.”
In a statement issued on Friday, Krasner reiterated how he believes an impeachment would run counter to Philadelphians’ rights as voters.
Referencing his recent reelection, he wrote, “You cannot claim to care for victims and also refuse to listen to their support for innovation, for change, for reform. It is astounding that this Committee thinks it is appropriate to undo the will of Philadelphians, especially those who are Black and Brown and poor and young, because it believes it knows better what they need.”