This is some seriously creepy shit here. State Attorney General Tom Corbett, who of course is now the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, has apparently subpoeaned Twitter seeking identifying information about two online critics.
I've written a couple times now about attempts to "out" anonymous bloggers, commenters, and others who make potentially damaging allegations online. And truth to tell, I have limited sympathy for folks who hide behind anonymity to shit on other people's reputations. But what is happening here is much MUCH different.
Those previous efforts were handled within the context of a civil suit -- one party suing another for damages. But Corbett's subpoena is part of a criminal proceeding -- a grand jury investigation -- which means that unlike those plaintiffs, he's can bring to bear the might of the law-enforcement appartus.
Corbett says he's not trying to silence criticism: The subpoena is part of an ongoing investigation, he says -- and since that investigation is before a grand jury, he can't speak about it. In any case, "I don't care about Twitter," Corbett told reporters earlier today. (And a look at his own Twitter account suggests he might be telling the truth here.)
Naturally, though, the twitterers in question see this as a case of "intimidating critics."
"you don't play fair," one tweet reads, and "your subpoena to twitter proves it."
I've spent some time looking over the Twitter accounts (and a related blog). I see allegations of political hypocrisy, accusations that Corbett may himself have violated the very laws he is prosecuting others for. If these accusations are false -- and belay your subpoenas; I'm not taking a position either way -- then sure, some statements could well be libelous. But I don't see anything criminal.
Even so, let's give Corbett the benefit of the doubt. Bloggers and Twitter-users can commit crimes, just like anyone else. And it's possible that these posts reflect some criminal activity my cursory examination didn't catch.
Here's one not-so-far-fetched possibility: What if Corbett wants to see if these tweets are being authored by, say, Democratic staffers in Harrisburg? Using state computers? Then he maybe has yet more allegations of doing politics on the public's time.
Even assuming the best of intentions, though, there is something deeply spooky about all this
Corbett's critics -- including the anonymous Twitterers -- accuse him of doing the same thing he's prosecuted other politicians for: mixing government work with politics. Democrats and liberal activists have already been urging Corbett to step down as AG. If he touts those prosecutions during his own political campaign, they say, couldn't he be using his office for personal advancement?
Those questions just got a lot more pressing now that bloggers, as well as politicians, are apparently in the crosshairs.
OK, so maybe there's such convincing evidence of criminal activity that he's GOT to pursue this. But if so, maybe he should step aside as AG. Not only for the good of the office -- to put an end to the shitstorm that is about to descend on it -- but for the good of his own campaign. He's got to know how this looks, right? In fact, that's one reason I'm tempted to think it can't possibly be what it looks like. Corbett HAS to know he wouldn't be silencing his critics -- he'd be proving them right.
But wow. Earlier this year, state Sen. Jane Orie was indicted for allegedly using taxpayer resources to get her sister elected to the state Supreme Court. In light of those allegations, Governor Ed Rendell has suggested that maybe we should be appointing judges rather than electing them. High-profile allegations and big-money donations, he said, had "totally eroded public confidence in the judicial system."
By that logic, maybe it's time to think about appointing prosecutors too.
ADDED: Confidential to the AG -- I know you won yesterday's primary pretty handily. But you might want to look at the rest of the returns. When voters think that a prosecutor has gone off the reservation in order to serve a political agenda, well ... the results aren't always pretty.