(*This story was updated at 3:24 p.m. on Wednesday, 10/26/22 to include additional reporting)
A Republican state lawmaker from Philadelphia introduced articles of impeachment against District Attorney Larry Krasner on Wednesday, days after the committee investigating Krasner’s office released a report blaming his policies for rising crime in the state’s largest city.
“The city of Philadelphia cannot afford to wait any longer for us to take action on what we already know to be true. That Krasner is responsible for the rise in crime across our city due to his dereliction of duty to prosecute the guilty and to protect the innocent,” Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, who is the prime sponsor of the articles, said in a news conference Wednesday morning.
Republicans are offering two articles. They accuse Krasner of “misbehavior in office” because he failed to enforce the law, endangering city residents and visitors and bringing the district attorney’s office into disrepute; and that his failure to cooperate obstructed the committee’s investigation.
“When we look at what we heard during the hearings … what has been said by law enforcement and what I know and every single day I hear in the news, we know the policies of the current Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner are directly correlated to the breakdown of law and order,” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said.
The announcement of articles of impeachment, less than two weeks before the midterm elections in which the subject of rising crime has played an outside role, was unexpected.
The chairperson of the Republican-led House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order said Monday that the panel would continue its investigation of Krasner, a Democrat, and issue a final report and recommendations before the end of the legislative session next month.
The articles are the most concrete step toward impeaching Krasner since Republican lawmakers in the state House called for his removal from office earlier this year, citing soaring homicide numbers that are now approaching 1,000 fatal shootings since January 2021.
The House voted to empanel the select committee this summer and although its chairperson, Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester, has said the five-member panel has been working to gather evidence and take testimony, it has held only two days of public hearings.
Krasner has decried the investigation as politically motivated, and said the report the committee released Monday is based on cherry-picked witnesses and faulty interpretations of data.
Krasner, who was overwhelmingly re-elected last year, and community advocates in Philadelphia, say the impeachment effort is intended to nullify the votes of city residents who approve of Krasner’s policies.
“We view this as a Republican test run to overturn elections, particularly elections in progressive communities and black and brown communities whose policies they do not agree with,” Robert Saleem Holbrook, director of the Abolitionist Law Center, said in a call with Krasner and reporters on Tuesday.
Krasner has sued to block the committee’s work, saying it was improperly empaneled, declined to turn over documents he said were protected by grand jury secrecy laws, and insisted on testifying in public after the committee subpoenaed him to testify behind closed doors.
Asked for comment Wednesday, Krasner’s office referred to a lengthy statement he released Friday after the committee canceled the executive session where he had been called to testify.
In the statement, Krasner says the committee has never stated a factual basis for his impeachment, has refused to examine causes of crime elsewhere in Pennsylvania. Krasner also stood behind his policies saying that investments in communities, public schools, mental health and addiction treatment, jobs and career training and keeping families together prevent crime.
“Criminologists know what works to prevent crime. It is not love for the NRA, opposition to reasonable gun regulations, or draconian sentences,” Krasner said.
Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the General Assembly may impeach an elected official for misbehavior in office. The articles of impeachment must be voted out of the House Judiciary Committee. A simple majority of the House can recommend impeachment, which must then be confirmed by the Senate.
Impeachment is rare in Pennsylvania. The last successful impeachment was in 1994, with the House voting to impeach and the Senate convicting Rolf Larsen, a former Supreme Court justice, after he was criminally convicted of conspiring to illegally obtain prescription drugs. The Senate also convicted him of improperly discussing court matters with litigants.
Asked whether the articles of impeachment, introduced less than two weeks before the midterm election, are timed to influence the election, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said the Republican Caucus has consistently been concerned about crime and denied that it has anything to do with the elections.
“It has to do with the phone calls and your actions we hear from families and victims, police agencies that are frustrated by doing their job and then people not being prosecuted,” Benninghoff said.
Benninghoff added that Republican leaders recognize the number of session days remaining is limited and that House Speaker Bryan Cutler has indicated his willingness to add days if needed. Benninghoff would not say whether a vote before the election is likely.
“When that bill comes out of committee, you better believe darn well it’s coming to the floor and we will vote,” Benninghoff said.
Rep. Toren Ecker, R-Adams, the only member of the select committee to speak at Wednesday’s news conference, said the articles of impeachment were the result of “an exhaustive process that is included hearings, interviews, testimony, research, lawsuits, and even a contempt vote.”
The contempt vote was taken in September after the select committee members said Krasner refused to respond to a subpoena for records.
“The decision to introduce articles is not a light decision, it’s not a knee jerk reaction,” Ecker said.
But on Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted on a resolution to direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee and the auditor general’s office to audit funds allocated to the city’s Gun Violence Task Force. Lawrence said the idea to audit the funds came from Attorney General Josh Shapiro but later walked back the assertion after Shapiro’s office disputed it called Lawrence’s statement unequivocally false.