PA GOP chair DiGiorgio talks race for governor, Russian investigation

Valentino F. “Val” DiGiorgio III has had quite a year.  He was running for chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party at the same time Donald Trump was running for president last year. DiGiorgio, an attorney at a Center City law firm, won the post in a hotly contested election in February.  Four months into the job, we spoke with him last week about the last year and the coming challenges for his party.

When did you first see President Trump’s Pennsylvania victory coming?

“As I started to travel the state for my campaign for state chairman I saw two states — Southeastern Pennsylvania where then-candidate Trump was trailing by 15 to 20 points, and the rest of the state, where the state chairman and activists were saying they’d never seen anything like this. I think by the summer I had decided he could win Pennsylvania.”

You were chairman of the Republican Party in Chester County, where Trump did not win in November. Did that affect your campaign to be state chairman?

“It affected it. The folks running against me made a caricature of me as some corrupt Republican-in-name-only politician who was a ‘Never-Trumper.’ Now I was with [U.S. Sen. Marco] Rubio early on. But once Rubio was out I was for Trump. And they played that up. And in trying to play that up they tried to paint the narrative that I somehow didn’t work for Trump in Chester County. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

How do you see the Republican primary for the nomination to challenge Gov. Wolf, a Democrat seeking a second term, shaping up for 2018?

“He went from the nation’s most liberal governor, according to the Huffington Post, by proposing the largest tax increase in Pennsylvania history, to the most angry governor, when he shut down the government last year and caused school districts and social services agencies to suffer, to this year as the most ineffective governor.”

The Philadelphia GOP has a new chairman. Do you think the party can be competitive in the city, where Democrats hold a 7-1 voter registration advantage?

I think this DA’s race is a gift from heaven for us, it’s manna from heaven just to show just how far left they’ve gone. We can point that out to Philadelphia voters, to the extent that you care about being able to walk down the street. You know white voters have concerns about what’s happening in black neighborhoods too. We have a chance to get, not just white voters, but black voters who care about their neighborhoods to vote Republican in the DA’s race. You have in the DA candidate [Democratic nominee Larry Krasner] not just a defense attorney who has never prosecuted a case, you have an extremist, anti-cop extremist who has said that he is not going to take the word of cops, who is going to do away with cash bail, who has represented anti-cop organizations like Black Lives Matter.”

Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby, who had been critical of Krasner, met with him last Wednesday and they seemed to get along very well.

“I’ll let McNesby speak for himself, but I can’t foresee any circumstances where the FOP endorses an anti-police, anti-law enforcement DA.  I would bet my house the FOP is not going to endorse this guy.”

Your wife [Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio] was recently embroiled in a controversy for attending a rally held by Trump, where you were the emcee. Some activists demanded that she resign as CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a social services agency serving Latinos in Philadelphia. When did you realize this would be a problem?

“I don’t think we had any idea it would turn out to be what it has become. The narrow-mindedness and nastiness of the left just never ceases to amaze me. You could go into a neighborhood, raise money for that neighborhood, give up your law practice to work for that organization, and because you appear at the rally of someone they don’t agree with politically, they’re going to call for your resignation. It just shows how far the country has come and how petty the Democratic Party has become.”

How do you resolve that kind of partisan division in the country?

“I don’t know. I struggle with this as a party leader, as someone who on one hand has to rally the base and be a partisan leader and on the other hand is conscious of the fact that the country is so divided. Do I want to add to that divide? I don’t have an answer to that as a party leader.”

Will state House Speaker Mike Turzai become the third candidate in the 2017 Republican primary for governor?

“We’re going to have three. Turzai is in.”

There is some skepticism that Turzai will ultimately enter the race.

“I’ve said that to him and he said he plans to run. He has to get past the [state] budget [due June 30].

You have two millionaire candidates — State Sen. Scott Wagner and businessman Paul Mango — who can self-fund. How do you navigate the primary so they don’t inflict enough wounds on each other that the winner enters the general election weakened?

“I think as the party leader you have to call in the party chairs and state committee members and the donors and have them insist that this stay as friendly as possible. If they choose to go into a nasty battle, that’s their decision. But you try to be the voice of reason and bring everyone together the best you can.”

Next year’s midterm elections could be an opportunity for Democrats, especially if Trump’s agenda remains stymied and the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion by Trump’s campaign is still going on.  You call the Russian stories a “made-up” scandal.  Why?

“The Democrats are doing a good job on what they set out to at 10:30 on the night of the election, which was to form the resistance.”

All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concur that the Russians interfered in the election.

“They’re investigating the president based on a hunch that they’d like to be true. . . . You can’t just say there’s collusion. You have to have some evidence of it. This isn’t Watergate, where we knew there was a crime and they worked backwards from there, a crime that Americans were involved in.”

But we know there was a crime — the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign were hacked for information that was released to damage them.

“We don’t know there was a crime. We knew that people involved with [President Richard] Nixon committed a crime against the Democratic Party [in the Watergate scandal]. You’re investigating the president and his allies before you have a scintilla of evidence that they were involved in it. Just rumor and innuendo.”