Political earthquake strikes Pennsylvania Dems with indictment of their union boss

Tick, tick, tick: President Trump's Democrat enemies in the key swing state of Pennsylvania (and in D.C., too) have got a lot to worry about, though the national media would rather focus attention elsewhere.  It is hard to overstate the importance of a 159-page indictment last Wednesday of the top Democrat political boss in the state of Pennsylvania.  Politico acknowledges that he is:

... the man who orchestrated the Democratic takeover of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

That court radically redrew the state's congressional map last year, leading to the Democratic pickup of a handful of congressional seats in November.

Philly.com reported last week:

In a wide-ranging indictment unsealed Wednesday, federal authorities portrayed the region's most powerful labor leader, John J. Dougherty, as an unscrupulous kingpin who enriched himself on the backs of union members and exerted his influence to steamroll opponents and corruptly bend the government of Philadelphia to his whims.

The chief weapon in his arsenal, prosecutors said, was City Councilman Bobby Henon, whom Dougherty helped propel into office in 2011 on a tide of union money, then allegedly used as a tool to leave his mark on pressing legislation facing the city.

Together, they are charged – along with six other members and allies of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – as codefendants in a sprawling criminal case that threatens to upend the landscape of politics and organized labor across Pennsylvania.

The allegations detailed in the 116-count indictment range from the typical fare of white-collar cases – claims that Dougherty and others embezzled more than $600,000 between 2010 and 2016 to fund personal shopping sprees, restaurant dinners, and annual trips – to staggering claims of corruption and political vindictiveness.

Grotesque as the theft of union dues for personal enrichment might be, it is the statewide political implications of the loss of the top bundler of political donations for Dems that has greater meaning, especially with the 2020 re-election of President Trump dependent on carrying the Keystone State once more.  Politico explains:

Dougherty's tentacles spread so far that Republicans already think it could be a boon for President Donald Trump's election chances in 2020.

"Anytime there's a vacuum, it gets filled, and I believe there's an opportunity for the Republicans to take advantage of the fact that the Democratic machinery is minus one piece," said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant.

It's hard to overstate Dougherty's power in Pennsylvania: His union's heavy purse and legendary get-out-the-vote operation helped elect congressmen, governors, judges, mayors, state legislators, and city council members.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 was a major donor to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, played a critical role in putting Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle in office, and was almost single-handedly responsible for making Jim Kenney the mayor of Philadelphia.

A few years before the nation's high-stakes midterm elections, the union's deep pockets helped put three justices on the state Supreme Court, including Dougherty's brother, Kevin.

The lead prosecutor of the case is Jennifer Williams, the first assistant U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which means she is the top career prosecutor in the office, having been appointed to that position in 2018, under President Trump.  Her background includes some intriguing work in both national security and cyber-crime.

Ms. Williams served as the Chief of the National Security and Cybercrime Unit, and she continues to serve as the Office's National Security Cyber Specialist and its Crisis Management Coordinator responsible for critical incident response.  While an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Ms. Williams was the lead prosecutor on a number of significant cases, including United States v. Colleen LaRose a/k/a "Jihad Jane," which was the first prosecution in the history of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charging material support of terrorism.  She was also lead counsel in United States v. Neal Saferstein, which resulted in the defendant's conviction for directing a $75 million telemarking fraud.  Additionally, Ms. Williams has served as a legal advisor during national security and other special events, including the September 2015 Papal visit to Philadelphia.

As the operation of Robert Mueller's team has made quite clear to everyone paying attention to politics, federal prosecutors can and do squeeze defendants against whom they have solid evidence in order to get them to implicate higher-ups.  Ask yourself whether or not the donor who orchestrated a judicial coup that switched several seats in the House of Representatives to Democrats might have had some interesting incriminating conversations with prominent national Dem officeholders.  And then ask yourself if the top experienced prosecutor of national security and cyber-crime cases might have thought to get warrants for wiretaps and email-monitoring.

Stay tuned to developments in Pennsylvania.  This could be yuuuge.  There are 21 months left before the presidential election, time enough for plenty of squeezing and further indictments.

Photo credit: U.S. DOJ.

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