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The PSU probe

HARRISBURG — Never before, it seems, has a successful prosecution of a notorious criminal precipitated such a prolonged debate over whether the prosecutor handled it correctly.

Gov. Tom Corbett, the former state attorney general, started the investigation that resulted in the conviction of serial predator Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach. Corbett's probe also exposed a cover-up at Penn State.

Sandusky was charged in November 2011, about 10 months after Corbett became governor. To call the aftermath a firestorm would be an understatement. Coach Joe Paterno and PSU President Graham Spanier were fired. Sandusky was convicted and likely will spend the rest of his life in prison. A separate investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh implicated Paterno and Spanier.

There are reasonable people who believe Corbett's handling of the investigation, which was carried on in 2011 by handpicked interim successor Linda Kelly and state Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, was botched and/or political.

Corbett's problem might have less to do with how he handled the investigation than with a failure to communicate about what it is he did. Some of the facts are in dispute and some aren't.

It took Corbett three years to charge Sandusky. Only one investigator supposedly was assigned to the case while a public-corruption investigation from which Corbett reaped enormous personal and political credit sucked up resources.

Additionally, the Freeh report obtained more emails and delved deeper into the cover-up than the AG's office. You'll be hearing this repeatedly through the fall as Democrat candidate Kathleen Kane takes on Republican David Freed in the AG's race.

As Corbett's anointed successor, Freed carries the weight of the office on his shoulders. Kane, while critical, comes off as more reasonable about it than did her Democrat primary opponent, Patrick Murphy. But you can bet she'll use Corbett as a foil to hammer Freed.

As for the length of the investigation, Corbett says it was absolutely necessary to build up the weight of the evidence that buried Sandusky.

Kane, a Lackawanna County prosecutor, says Corbett did not need to take the case through a grand jury. Sandusky could have been arrested early on, she says. Corbett has called that a “calculated risk.”

Sara Ganim, the Pulitzer prize winning reporter from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, is the source of one investigator assigned to the case. Not true, Corbett says. There was “one, two or three” troopers on the case and then two Bureau of Narcotics agents, who had been police officers, were added, Corbett said. Once he became governor he and Noonan made sure state police were added to the investigation.

It's true Freeh obtained more emails than did the attorney general. Those emails from 1998 and 2001 were critical evidence in the case, Freeh said.

The prior administration was not forthcoming with documents under subpoena, Corbett suggested last week. Freeh was dealing with the “new” cooperative administration. The attorney general faced resistance from a Spanier-directed administration, Corbett suggested.

Corbett, when asked, would not say it was obstruction of justice.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. (717-787-1405 or [email protected].)


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