HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania lawmakers made a hasty return to the state Capitol from their summer recess on Tuesday as they rushed through a replacement for the state’s convicted ex-attorney general.
The unanimous confirmation vote on Bruce Beemer comes less than two weeks after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nominated him to head an office racked by infighting and scandal under Kathleen Kane.
Wolf and lawmakers said they hoped Beemer, in what is expected to be a five-month stint, can fix an office buffeted by Kane’s clashes with top aides, including Beemer, and accusations that she fired employees in retaliation.
Senators reconvened and voted with little fanfare in an effort to close an ugly chapter for the state’s top law enforcement office. The vote was held almost as soon as Senate rules allowed. Within minutes, the state’s chief justice swore in Beemer privately in Wolf’s offices, with Wolf in attendance.
Beemer told senators in a brief confirmation hearing that he hopes to restore a sense of honor and integrity to the office. Work must be done to restore the office’s credibility with the public and other law enforcement agencies, as well as improving internal morale, Beemer said.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward to do doing that each and every day,” Beemer told reporters. “It’s going to be sort of like putting building blocks one on top of each other. Every day we’re going to try to make things a little bit better.”
Beemer said it had been difficult for a lot of employees there, including him, to stomach a drumbeat of negative TV or newspaper stories about Kane or internal personnel issues.
In a statement, Wolf said Beemer has the experience and skillset to begin healing the attorney general’s office, and he is trusted by its rank-and-file employees and understands “better than anyone what must be fixed to restore the public trust.”
One hot-button issue awaiting Beemer is a report commissioned by Kane on a trove of pornographic or offensive emails culled from the agency’s servers.
It is perhaps the final act in a scandal that has roiled Pennsylvania’s law enforcement and legal communities for two years and felled several top state officials, including two state Supreme Court justices. Kane had released some hundreds of emails her office discovered, but apparently not all.
Beemer would not say whether he would release the report publicly, saying he had not seen it and that people named in it must be afforded due process.
But state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, took to the Senate floor to urge Beemer to deal directly with the “misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted and pornographic emails” and ensure that such a culture cannot exist again in the office.
“This issue is a festering wound that must be cleaned before our justice system can heal,” Schwank said.
Asked about her comments, Beemer said he would try to address any remaining issues, but he had not seen a recent systemic issue and that there had been a lot of changes.
Kane was convicted of abusing the powers of the state’s top law enforcement office by leaking secret grand jury information to smear a rival and lying under oath to cover it up. She resigned Aug. 17, two days after her conviction, and faces prison time.
Beemer, the former top deputy to Kane, was promoted into the post by Kane, but he later clashed publicly with her and provided testimony that helped prosecutors to convict her.
Beemer left his post as Kane’s top deputy last month to become Wolf’s inspector general, an office that investigates complaints about fraud, waste and misconduct in state agencies.
He is expected to fill the remaining five months of Kane’s term until one of the candidates running to succeed Kane is picked by voters in the November election is sworn in Jan. 17. Beemer plans to return to the post of inspector general.
Beemer, 47, took on some of the office’s major legal decisions and openly confronted Kane over the agency’s operations after the state Supreme Court suspended her law license last fall.
He also gave unflattering testimony about Kane at her trial earlier this month, including the contention that Kane told him it was “no big deal” when he told her a 2014 article in the Philadelphia Daily News contained information he deemed to be protected by investigation secrecy laws.
The information in the article was leaked by Kane, prosecutors said.
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