During the interminable Joe Biden running mate sweepstakes, one of Kamala Harris’ supposed weaknesses was the fact she is a former prosecutor — a profession that’s not very popular among the modern left.
Nobody who brought this up was suggesting any malfeasance on her part during her time as San Francisco district attorney or California attorney general. They were simply saying that — in a year where Rolling Stone published a piece in which the author seriously suggested a character on “Law & Order: SVU” who was progressive, empathetic and determined to track down sexual abusers “does real-world damage” simply by portraying law enforcement in a positive light — a former district attorney might turn off liberal voters.
Harris’ time as a prosecutor ought to be scrutinized, although not because enforcing the law is a bad thing. Instead, it’s the fact that her office reportedly stopped working with victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy and buried the records pertaining to their cases despite a hue and cry from victim’s groups.
First, it’s worth noting that to certain better-educated corners of the left, Harris’ history as a prosecutor isn’t just problematic because she was a prosecutor. When she won her first race in 2003, Harris beat San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, a man who described himself as “America’s most progressive district attorney” — and could legitimately lay claim to that title, for better or worse.
Journalist Lee Fang at The Intercept complained in a February 2019 piece that Harris had won because she had used “tough on crime” rhetoric and emphasized San Francisco’s astoundingly low felony conviction rate at the time — 29 percent. This is a story all its own, and one the progressive left will eventually have a field day with once they actually read The Intercept. Once Harris took over from Hallinan, however, she also took over her predecessor’s investigations of alleged sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
As Fang noted in a June 2019 Intercept article, the San Francisco DA’s office “had been working closely with survivors of sexual abuse to pursue cases against the Catholic Church. The office and the survivors were in the middle of a legal battle to hold predatory priests accountable, and Harris inherited a collection of personnel files involving allegations of sexual abuse by priests and employees of the San Francisco Archdiocese, which oversees church operations in San Francisco, and Marin and San Mateo counties.”
Harris’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment for either article, Fang reported.
Harris took office just months after the United States Supreme Court ruled a California law that retroactively invalidated the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases to be unconstitutional — which meant that while the files the district attorney’s office had on Catholic Church officials was substantial, not all of it could be pursued criminally.
I could go through a litany of reasons why Terrence Hallinan was an incompetent district attorney, but his solution to this conundrum wasn’t necessarily a bad one. Since the DA’s office couldn’t pursue many of the cases it had made criminally, it would release the files publicly and work with victims pursuing civil actions.
“Hallinan’s office had used the archdiocese files to guide its investigations and talked publicly about releasing the documents after removing victims’ names and identifiers,” wrote author and Breitbart News senior contributor Peter Schweizer in his book “Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite.”
“Harris, on the other hand, abruptly decided to bury the records. For some reason, she did not want the documents released in any form. Harris’s office claimed that the cover-up was about protecting the victims of abuse. ‘District Attorney Harris focuses her efforts on putting child molesters in prison,’ her office claimed. ‘We’re not interested in selling out our victims to look good in the paper.’”
The flaw in this statement is that the victims were more than willing to be “sold out.”
“They’re full of s—,” said Joey Piscitelli, the northwest regional director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, according to Schweizer. “You can quote me on that. They’re not protecting the victims.”
Schweizer wrote that, contrary to whatever Harris’ office may have said, victims “were outraged by her actions.”
“Far from protecting victims, they argued, the cover-up was actually protecting the abusers by keeping their alleged crimes secret.”
Even outside the cases affected by the high court’s statute of limitations ruling, in 13 years as San Francisco’s district attorney or California’s attorney general, Harris didn’t bring a single case against Catholic clergy accused of sex abuse.
During that time, Schweizer notes, at least 50 cities took action against priests accused of sexual assault. Furthermore, The Intercept reported Harris’ office refused to cooperate with victims as they pursued civil claims against the Catholic Church.
Victims who talked to Fang said that during her seven-year tenure as San Francisco’s district attorney, “Harris’s office did not proactively assist in civil cases against clergy sex abuse and ignored requests by activists and survivors to access the cache of investigative files that could have helped them secure justice.”
Yet, Harris has repeatedly touted her record of prosecuting sex crimes — child sex crimes in particular — during the presidential race and other campaigns.
The victims of clerical sex abuse in the San Francisco Archdiocese have a different view of that record.
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language and descriptions that some viewers will find offensive.
“It went from Terence Hallinan going hundred miles an hour, full speed ahead, after the Catholic Church to Kamala Harris doing absolutely nothing and taking it backwards hundred miles an hour,” said Piscitelli, who a jury found had been sexually abused by a priest during his time at Salesian College Preparatory high school between 1969 and 1971.
While Piscitelli had been meeting with Hallinan’s office, Harris cut off meetings as soon as she took over. This wasn’t an uncommon story.
“I remember Kamala Harris,” Dominic De Lucca, who says he was raped by a priest at age 12, told The Intercept. “She didn’t want to have any meetings.”
“She wanted the public to think this is an issue that happened years ago, that it doesn’t happen anymore. Let’s just move on.”
Harris didn’t comment on The Intercept’s 2019 report and there doesn’t seem to be any concrete reason she decided against releasing the files despite the fact that victims wanted her to.
That just leaves speculation — and there’s plenty of that.
“The Roman Catholic Church is very powerful and I think they didn’t want to step on any toes, especially in San Francisco,” De Lucca told The Intercept.
If you want speculation of a more sinister bent, Schweizer noted that Harris received a substantial amount of money from sources close to the Catholic Church during the 2003 campaign.
“Harris had no particular ties to the Catholic Church or Catholic organizations, but the money still came in large, unprecedented sums. Lawyer Joseph Russoniello represented the church on a wide variety of issues, including the handling of the church abuse scandal. He served on the Catholic Church’s National Review Board (NRB) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Schweizer wrote in “Profiles in Corruption.”
“The purpose of the NRB was to review Catholic Church abuse cases. Russoniello was also a partner in the San Francisco law firm Cooley Godward. Russoniello donated the maximum amount by law to her campaign, $1,250, and his law firm added another $2,250. He also sat on Harris’s advisory council when she was San Francisco district attorney.
“Another law firm, Bingham McCutcheon, which handled legal matters for the archdiocese concerning Catholic Charities, donated $2,825, the maximum allowed. Curiously, Bingham McCutcheon had only donated to two other candidates running for office in San Francisco before, for a total of $650. As with Russoniello, their support was unusual.”
Whatever the case, there’s no obvious explanation for why a prosecutor who unseated a progressive incumbent for not being tough enough on crime would, upon taking over a DA’s office that was aggressively pursuing the San Francisco Archdiocese over a potential sexual abuse cover-up, drop the entire thing.
Not only had Hallinan’s office done thorough work on the matter, it was an issue very much in the headlines when Harris took office. The Boston Globe’s bombshell exposé on the massive cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston had just been published in 2002, opening the floodgates.
There’s simply no good explanation for the path Harris chose.
For the reflexive left, the mere fact that Harris was a prosecutor is enough reason for them to think she’s a bad pick for Biden’s running mate. That’s not the problem, though.
She’s a bad pick because she was a bad prosecutor — particularly when it came to victims of sexual abuse by clergy of the Catholic Church.
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