District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman of Montgomery County has criminally charged Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane with leaking confidential documents and then lying to a grand jury about it under oath.
At a news conference this morning, Ms. Ferman unveiled an indictment including charges of perjury, official oppression, obstruction of justice and contempt of court.
She said Ms. Kane would surrender and be arraigned, likely within the next two days.
“Our actions here today make one thing crystal clear, beyond any doubt, that no one is above the law, not even the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Ms. Ferman said.
“This investigative team determined Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane devised a scheme to secretly leak confidential investigative information from secret grand jury materials directly to political operatives in the hopes of embarrassing and harming former state prosecutors whom she believed — whom she believed, without evidence — had made her look bad,” Ms. Ferman said.
Also charged was Patrick Reese, a member of Ms. Kane’s security detail, who stands accused of aiding the attorney general in an alleged cover-up.
Ms. Kane today responded to the charges with a statement: “I am very disappointed the district attorney has made the decision to pursue this case. I have maintained my innocence from the day these allegations surfaced and I continue to do so today. I intend to defend myself vigorously against these charges. I look forward to the opportunity to present my case in a public courtroom and move beyond the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has defined the process to this point. Meanwhile, I remain committed to leading the Office of Attorney General and doing the job the citizens of this Commonwealth elected me to do. A resignation would be an admission of guilt and I’m not guilty. I assure everyone the Office of Attorney General will continue to fulfill its mission to protect and serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
Republicans wasted no time condemning Ms. Kane and calling into question her ability to continue to do her job.
“The gravity of these allegations cannot be understated,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus.
“The public places its trust in its elected officials, thus even a hint of impropriety within the office of AG shouldn’t be tolerated and should be handled, like any other criminal matter, within our justice system. That said, multiple allegations of misusing the office – which is directly related to the performance of her duties as [Pennsylvania’s] chief law enforcement officer raise serious concerns regarding her ability to continue to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
“These are serious charges, specifically the charge of perjury. We do question her ability to serve as the chief prosecutor for the state, while she is being prosecuted. That’s our biggest concern,” said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for state Senate Republicans.
House member Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, has been calling for some time for Ms. Kane to be impeached, since she refused to defend the state’s anti same-sex marriage law in 2013. His call for impeachment has yet to gain traction, however.
At least one Democratic elected official has called for Ms. Kane to step down.
“Quite simply, criminal defendants are entitled to be presumed innocent, but they are not entitled to be attorney general. Far from being an admission of guilt, a resignation under these circumstances would indicate a recognition of the sanctity of our criminal justice system,” said Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin.
Ms. Kane, 49, a former assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County, was the first woman and first Democrat to be elected attorney general in Pennsylvania. (The post became an elected office in 1980.) For a time she was spoken of as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016.
During her campaign, she promised to investigate how the attorney general’s office under former Gov. Tom Corbett and Lindy Kelly, his appointed successor, handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. A subsequent review found the probe had not been delayed by political considerations, though it faulted investigators for not acting sooner.
The investigation into Ms. Kane dealt with whether information from a 2009 probe into the finances of former NAACP head J. Whyatt Mondesire — which did not lead to charges — had been improperly released. Detailed information from that probe was published in the Philadelphia Daily News in June 2014.
In March 2014, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Ms. Kane had shut down an undercover investigation that captured Democratic members of the state House of Representatives accepting money.
Ms. Kane said the office determined that several flaws — including problems with the credibility of the informant and evidence of racial targeting — crippled any change of a prosecution, though she acknowledged the tapes contained incriminating evidence.
The Philadelphia district attorney, Seth Williams, criticized Ms. Kane for shutting down the case. He pursued the case and secured guilty pleas.
A statewide investigating grand jury had recommended that Ms. Kane be charged with perjury, false swearing, official oppression and obstruction in connection to an alleged leak of grand jury materials. The grand jury stated in its presentment that it found the attorney general’s testimony was “not an honest account of the events.”
The case was referred to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office in December by the judge supervising the investigating grand jury. The district attorney’s office then began its own investigation, according to an affidavit of probable cause released this morning.
Investigators concluded, the affidavit says, that the attorney general’s office reviewed the 2009 investigation involving Mr. Mondesire in order to gain information to retaliate against former state prosecutors.
She had decided to retaliate, the affidavit says, against people she believed were responsible for leaking information that was used in a March 2014 story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Investigators believed they found evidence that Kane’s motive for releasing confidential information was to discredit former attorney general’s office prosecutor Frank Fina, the affidavit says.
In an email exchange with a media strategist about the Inquirer article, Ms. Kane wrote, “I will not allow them to discredit me or our office,” and concluded the email: “This is war.”