HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Bill McSwain, the top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia under former President Donald Trump, will run for Pennsylvania governor, he announced Monday, joining a crowded Republican field that may get bigger yet.
McSwain's announcement — his first run for public office — was not a surprise.
He had written to Trump in July, seeking the former president's endorsement for governor and, before that, had told party figures for months that he intended to run in next year's election.
In a campaign video released Monday, McSwain took on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the pandemic, saying “we will have no forced closings and no state dictates” and otherwise sounded familiar Republican notes on nationalized culture war issues, cutting taxes and "law and order."
He leaned heavily on his background in law enforcement and service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I will fight with all the commitment I learned as a Marine and a prosecutor to restore law and order, freedom and economic opportunity,” he said.
In an interview on WPHT-AM radio in Philadelphia on Monday, McSwain said a major theme of his campaign is "restoring people's freedom and sticking up for people’s individual rights.
McSwain, 52, lives in Chester County and went back to private law practice after more than three years as the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia. He also served several years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia during George W. Bush's presidency.
He has worked for two large Philadelphia-based law firms — Drinker Biddle & Reath and, currently, Duane Morris — and has degrees from Yale and Harvard.
McSwain has tried to make the case that he is best positioned to beat the Democrats’ likely nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. And while McSwain comes from the heavily populated suburbs of Philadelphia, it's not at all clear that his service as U.S. attorney there bought him name recognition.
His backers like to point out that Republicans in Pennsylvania have a tradition of nominating candidates for governor who are former prosecutors, including three — Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett — who got elected.
However, he will first have to get through the Republican field, which includes former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the former four-term congressman who was the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018.
Several Republican state senators also have considered running. The governor's office is opening up with Wolf term-limited, and electing a Republican could give the GOP complete control over the reins in the statehouse, where Republicans have large majorities in the state House and Senate.
As U.S. attorney, McSwain battled Democrats in Philadelphia over law enforcement policy, accusing city officials of being too lenient when they prosecuted violent crime and defying the “rule of law” through the city's sanctuary city policy. He also went to court successfully to fight plans to open a medically supervised drug-injection site.
McSwain is coming off an episode in July where Trump — speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas — said he had a letter from McSwain that claimed that Trump's attorney general, Bill Barr, would not let McSwain investigate fraud in last November's presidential election.
McSwain's letter said he was given a “directive to pass along serious allegations to the state attorney general for investigation," although he gave no examples.
Barr denied to The Philadelphia Inquirer that he ordered McSwain not to investigate allegations of election fraud. Rather, the order came from a top deputy to Barr and instructed McSwain to share information with Shapiro’s office, not “stand-down” from investigating, Barr told the Inquirer.
McSwain "told me that he had to do this because he was under pressure from Trump and for him to have a viable candidacy he couldn’t have Trump attacking him,” Barr said. So McSwain “tried to thread the needle” by saying “things that were technically true” without giving “support to Trump’s stolen election narrative," Barr said.
McSwain later insisted the letter was true. But McSwain has not publicly chastised Trump over the former president's baseless claims about election fraud or blamed Trump for inciting supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Asked about McSwain's claims, Shapiro's office has said it had a close working relationship with the U.S. attorney's office, and had not heard of any election-related concerns from McSwain — or received a direct referral from McSwain’s office.
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