Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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UPDATED: Tom Corbett's stunning abuse of power

UPDATED: Tom Corbett's stunning abuse of power

 

OK, I confess I haven't been paying enough attention to the race for governor here in Pa. -- in fact, I believe my only post was to criticize the Tony Williams (a.k.a. "Anthony Williams," a.k.a. "Anthony Hardy Williams" -- he really needs to sort that out before his next election) campaign for taking so much money from a small group of wealthy single-issue donors. There's a lot about the race I don't really get. Democrat Dan Onorato's appeal -- other than that he looks like a candidate that some ad agency called up from Central Casting -- sort of baffles me.

And the Republican nominee, attorney general Tom Corbett? The one thing everybody knows about him is that he's indicted a lot of politicos -- a lot of Democrats and some Republicans -- on corruption charges; some have criticized those probes as politically motivated career enhancers for the ambitious AG, but I disagree. Look, many very good prosecutions are furthered by a prosecutor's ego. Rudy Giuliani (a Republican) and Eliot Spitzer (a Democrat) are egomanaical politicians whom I can't stand -- but they went after the mob, corrupt pols, and Wall Street. I much prefer that to prosecutors (and yes I'm looking at you Lynne Abraham) who prefer to play footsie with the political machine or their donors. I was concerned, however, when Corbett announced a headline-grabbing waste-of-time lawsuit against national health reform.

But now we have this.

And it's a game changer.

Corbett's actions here look like one of the most stunning abuses of power I've seen in a while -- not just in Pennsylvania but anywhere.

A blog focused on exposing the alleged "hypocrisy" of Attorney General Tom Corbett and the Twitter account associated with that blog could soon be enjoying a bounce in reader interest, thanks to a subpoena ordered by Corbett's office earlier this month.

Corbett, who won a primary against Rep. Sam Rohrer Tuesday and will be the Republican nominee for governor in November, subpoenaed Twitter representatives to appear as grand jury witnesses to “testify and give evidence regarding alleged violations of the laws of Pennsylvania.''

The case could gain viral attention, since the subpoena calls into question the right to free speech, specifically from anonymous posters on the World Wide Web.

Maybe I'm missing some nuance here but at first blush it looks like the anonymous owners of these two Twitter accounts and blogs are doing nothing more than exercising their 1st Amendment rights of free speech to criticize Corbett's public actions. If Corbett believes that he has been libelled by any of the blog or Twitter posts, he is within his rights to personally sue them (a difficult case for him to win, as a public figure). But that is a far different thing from using the power of the state and the grand jury.

My Philly.com colleague, David Merrell, has more on this.

Corbett is not commenting right now -- but he needs to explain this, immediately. In one sense, though, it may be good for the voters of Pennsylvania to learn about this now, more than five months before the election. The state has enough problems retooling its Rust Belt economy -- a power-mad governor abusing civil liberties would be too much for it to bear.

UPDATE: This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette advances the theory that the account belongs to a defendent in one of Corbett's cases who is awaiting sentencing. As noted above, there's no reason why Corbett's office cannot be more transparent. And if that's the reason, I still do not believe that the AG's actions are justified, given the free speech issues involved.

The article also notes that Corbett's aides are seeking an excessively long sentence in this case. The whole episode makes Team Corbett come off as vindictive and petty. Just what Pennsylvania needs in its next governor. Also, if he's going after one guy, why go after two Twitter accounts?

Footnote: Anticipating what commenters are going to argue, I don't see an analogy here between what I've been writing about with Rep. Anthony Weiner and Goldline and Corbett's actions. As I noted yesterday, Goldline is a corporation that appears to be shortchanging consumers in a way that warrants more investigation; an analogy to what Corbett is doing would be if Weiner or someone else in government tried to subpoena Glenn Beck himself or shut down his Web site. That -- which I cannot imagine happening -- would be ludicrous, just like what Corbett is doing here is ludicrous.

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Will Bunch
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