Corbett says prosecutors 'probably' investigating whether Penn State obstructed justice
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett said on Thursday he is very disappointed in previous Penn State University administrators who failed to fully respond to subpoenas seeking email evidence in the Jerry Sandusky case.
Whether that failure constitutes obstruction of justice is “probably the subject of an investigation in the Attorney General's Office,” said Corbett, the Shaler Republican who as attorney general started the investigation into child sex abuse at Penn State.
“I think you need to say prior administration, prior people who were in control,” he said. “Now if I limit it to that, I am very disappointed in the lack of forthcoming evidence to the subpoena that was given to them by the Attorney General's Office.”
Corbett was responding to reporters' questions about why former FBI Director Louis Freeh's report last week on the scandal contained emails that were not provided to the attorney general.
Asked if he thought administrators broke the law, Corbett said: “I have my own opinion, and I am not going to share it with you.”
Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for Attorney General Linda Kelly, said he could not comment about grand jury matters. “We've said since November there's an ongoing criminal investigation.”
The agency's investigators “are certainly checking into it to see why emails were not turned in earlier,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at St. Vincent College in Unity. “That doesn't mean there was obstruction of justice. Obstruction is not something you can commit negligently. It is a crime of specific intent.”
The 1998 and 2001 emails between top leaders discussing accusations against Sandusky were “the most important evidence in this investigation,” Freeh said. They led to Freeh's conclusions that former Penn State President Graham Spanier and former football coach Joe Paterno helped cover up Sandusky's acts.
The university's trustees hired Freeh's law firm in the aftermath of Sandusky's arrest on child molestation charges last November. Corbett, a former federal prosecutor, said he recommended Freeh.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the university appreciates “Gov. Corbett's acknowledgement of how President (Rodney) Erickson and the Board of Trustees have worked to ensure Penn State cooperates fully with all investigations. Penn State has literally turned over millions of pages of documents to investigators and continues to cooperate with any and all requests for information.”
Corbett did not mention Erickson by name.
Two administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, former vice president of finance, are charged with failing to report a 2001 incident and for lying to a grand jury. A spokesperson for them said it would be inappropriate to comment.
An attorney for Spanier could not reached. Paterno died in January.
Dorothy Cardimen of Crescent, a mother of two Penn State alumni, said she is concerned Corbett “didn't get on it, move directly and more in depth right away.
“I question that,” said Cardimen, 76, a retiree.
Corbett has defended the speed of the investigation.
In answering questions after a news conference on an unrelated matter, Corbett appeared to walk a fine line between being a governor who wanted to comment and being a former prosecutor wary of saying anything in violation of grand jury secrecy.
He read from a June 11 public court filing by the Attorney General's Office that said: “The commonwealth has come into possession of computer data (again, subpoenaed long ago but not received from PSU until after the charges had been filed in this case) in the form of emails among Schultz, Curley and others that contradict their testimony before the grand jury.”
“The governor is saying essentially that Penn State was not as cooperative as it could have and should have been during the initial AG's office's investigation,” said University of Pittsburgh Law School professor John Burkoff. “After the fact, after the Sandusky charges, Penn State was much more forthcoming and cooperative with Louis Freeh, whose services Penn State employed.
“Clearly, the governor feels like Penn State dragged its feet initially,” Burkoff said. “He is implying that if he had the same 1998 and 2001 email traffic that Freeh did, the AG's office would have charged Sandusky sooner. That's probably true.”
But on the issue of whether late email evidence amounts to criminal conduct, Burkoff said, the “governor is absolutely right not to offer his opinion on that question. That's a matter for the AG's office to explore.”
Also on Thursday, former Penn State Board of Trustees chairman Steve Garban submitted his resignation from the board. He has been heavily criticized for failing to alert the full board in October that Sandusky was about to be arrested.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.