Joe Khan is prepared to send a message to President Donald Trump if he is elected district attorney, and he wants Penn students to help.
Khan is currently a professor of trial advocacy at Penn Law School and an attorney-at-law for Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C. He has previously served as a U.S. federal attorney and an assistant Philadelphia district attorney. Now, Khan is running for Philadelphia district attorney. The election is May 16, the day after graduation, and Khan emphasizes that students should cast absentee ballots if they will not be in the city for the election. In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Khan discussed the controversial Philadelphia district attorney election, as well as his priorities if elected.
Daily Pennsylvanian: Prior to the election, you said you would increase the resources being allocated to sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence. That was, of course, before the November election. Now that it appears there’s a possibility that the federal legal priorities will shift, have your priorities shifted?
Joe Khan: Those remain the top priorities; that will still be something that happens on day one. In addition to those priorities, one of the many things that has changed since Donald Trump’s election has been the way in which I think about the role of the district attorney’s office and its relationship with the federal government. The district attorney’s office is going to have to be a bulwark against what appears to be likely excesses and infringements of the federal government. The best example I can give is Donald Trump has pledged to institute bans on Muslims in the country. He has said that he is going to require Muslims to register with the government, and if he is going to attempt to follow through on those threats, then I think it’s important that the people of Philadelphia understand that there is somebody on their side trying to stop that. I’m going to use every bit of power we have in the DA’s office to fight against that.
DP: Do you think that’s going to be a likely battle the DA’s office is going to face?
JK: I think it’s impossible to know with Donald Trump what’s real. I think we need to be prepared to take him at his word and be vigilant and ready to fight. I plan to be prepared. I would be sworn in during January 2018, and by then we would have a full year of Donald Trump as president— if he makes it through his first year. I think, at that point, we’ll know how much was boasting and how much was real. I’ll be prepared to do what I need to do as district attorney to protect this city.
DP: You have called for District Attorney Seth Williams’ resignation after the recent $62,000 ethics violation fine. Could you give a summary of your argument as to why he should resign now?
JK: He has said that he needs to try to regain the trust of the people of Philadelphia. I’ve lived here my entire life. I love this city. The city deserves to have a DA that it trusts. You cannot govern when you’ve lost the moral authority to lead. This is the district attorney. This is the person who is responsible for making decisions about who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t. These are life and death decisions, and if people start to feel that the system is rigged — that there are going to be two standards of justice for the well-connected and everybody else — that’s when people start to lose hope. And this is a time when hope is all a lot of us have. Whether you are a religious minority, whether your skin is brown, whether you are a member of the LGBT community or whether you’re a woman, everyone has a reason to be fearful of what’s coming. The message I’m getting out to people is that, whoever you are ... I’m going to be a DA for you. I’m going to be a DA that fights for you. I’m going to be in your corner. By his own admission, [Williams] does not have the trust of the people of Philadelphia. You can’t have a DA that isn’t trusted. I’ve stepped up to challenge him to give the people an alternative, and on May 16th they’ll have that chance.
DP: Why should Penn students take an interest in this election, and why should they vote for you?
JK: I want Penn students to do more than vote for me. I want Penn students to come and join our cause. I want Penn students to come and volunteer. I want Penn students knocking on doors. I want Penn students doing research. We have Penn students on board, and I want more of them. They’re fantastic. We have students at the law school that are doing legal research and policy research, which allows us to be thinking about these questions I have talked about today. If you are upset about the election results, and you want to send a message to someone like Donald Trump — who would not appreciate seeing the son of a Muslim immigrant with dark skin named Khan, who has prosecuted sexual assault, [has] called on his opponent to release his tax returns and is against building a wall, as DA — help me get elected. If you want to make sure you have a DA’s office that is fighting for people that don’t often have a voice, come join our cause. Let’s help make the Philadelphia DA’s office the dynamic, progressive engine of reform that it should be, and that the Philadelphia people deserve it to be. This is a people-powered campaign, and we need people like Penn students to help us get there.
The interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.