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Kathleen Kane 101: How politics and leaks doomed a rising Democratic star

Kathleen Kane used to be so popular. In 2012, fresh off becoming Pennsylvania’s first elected female attorney general, she was potentially a future candidate for governor. Now? Not so much. After months of political embarrassments, her career took a sharp dive Thursday: A Pennsylvania grand jury has recommended criminal charges against Kane, according to a scoop from the Inquirer. Kane could be facing counts of perjury and contempt of court related to her office allegedly leaking details to the media from that embarrassed her political foes.

Why have I been hearing Kathleen Kane’s name so many times in the last year?

Kane is the politician who punished all those porny-email-reading state employees. She also canceled the investigation of Philadelphia politicians who were caught in a sting operation (in another story broken by the Inquirer), only to see Philly D.A. Seth Williams successfully charge some of those politicians, causing politicians from her own Democratic party to speak out against her in December. Before all this, Kane led a reinvestigation of the state’s investigation of Jerry Sandusky. She didn’t uncover too much startling information.

But those criminal charges we mentioned have nothing to do with any of those things.

Wait. What? So then what does this recommendation of charges have to do with?

A story about a state investigation that ran in the Daily News last June. The Daily News reported that Kane’s office was reinvestigating a 2009 case from her predecessor, former Gov. Tom Corbett, involving Jerry Mondesire, former head of the Philadelphia NAACP. The newspaper had obtained several documents from the 2009 investigation.

The recommended charges against Kane relate to the leaking of those documents. The Inquirer first reported about the grand jury investigation in September. It is being convened by Montgomery County judge William Carpenter, who appointed lawyer Thomas Carluccio to be the special prosecutor.

People are alleging the leak was made to embarrass her foes. Who?

Frank Fina. Fina was the lead investigator on the 2009 case against Mondesire that didn’t lead to charges.

Kane and Fina have been at odds since she campaigned for attorney general saying she would reinvestigate the state’s Sandusky investigation. Fina, who worked on Corbett’s AG staff, had been the lead investigator on that case. They’ve had bad blood since.

Since Kane has been in office, she has completed that reinvestigation of the state’s Sandusky probe and also dropped the sting case against Philly’s Democratic lawmakers, which Fina had initiated. Fina, who left his position in the AG’s office shortly after Kane started, now works in the Philly D.A.’s office.

To top it off, the Inquirer reported that Fina was Kane’s intended target when she launched the porny email investigation. But over the summer he obtained a ruling from Montgomery County judge William Carpenter barring Kane from publicly using his name. That’s why you’ve never heard his name attached to the porn scandal.

So Fina is leaking all this stuff to the Inquirer?

There’s no way to know — but wow, what a coincidence, right?

Why can’t an attorney general’s office leak stuff?

It’s the law. Prosecutors like Kane are not allowed to publicly disclose any information presented before a grand jury. They can only share information with their staff after the judge has furnished an official transcript of the testimony presented. Jurors legally can’t provide any grand jury details, either — but they routinely do, and you’ll see stories anonymously quoting them all the time. The only people who can legally share grand jury information with the public are the witnesses who testify in front of the grand jury. They can say whatever they want to whoever they want.

How do investigators know Kane leaked that information?

We don’t know for sure what led the grand jury investigation of Kane to begin, but Kane admitted in November — through attorney Lanny Davis — that some information from the 2009 Mondesire case was leaked with her knowledge. Davis said the released information was not legally considered “grand jury information.” Kane released a statement  saying she was acting for the good of the public and for transparency by releasing the information.

Who started this investigation?

Carpenter, the MontCo judge, requested the investigation. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille approved the request. Castille retired at the end of 2014.

I remember something about a car crash concerning this grand jury thing?

Kane suffered a concussion in a car accident hours before she was supposed to testify in front of the grand jury in October. Her driver hit an empty parked car, and Kane wasn’t wearing a seat belt and thus hit her head, according to her spokesperson. However, the police report of the accident stated she was wearing a seatbelt. The crash was the second delay to her testifying (she had a scheduling conflict the first time).

Wait a minute. Aren’t these stories about the grand jury investigating and recommending charges against Kane also being leaked? Shouldn’t these leaks be investigated, too?

That’s exactly what Lanny Davis is saying. On Thursday, he said, “This anonymous leak to the Inquirer about this alleged presentment could be – in and of itself – a possible violation of the state Grand Jury Secrecy Act. I wonder why the supervising judge who appointed the special prosecutor to investigate the attorney general hasn’t initiated a grand-jury investigation of this leak or any of the other previous leaks from this same grand jury process.”

Could this be her foes serving up some political revenge then?

Maybe! That’s pretty much what Davis is alluding to. Kane has said the investigation of her is an “abuse of the criminal justice system” and has referenced the porny emails investigation and the reinvestigation of the Sandusky probe as things that pissed people off.

Kane is also a Democrat. Carpenter, the judge who requested the investigation of her, is a Republican. So is Carlucci, the special prosecutor, as well as the now-retired Castille.

Castille said earlier this week there were no politics involved in the decision to investigate Kane. “It’s all kosher,” he said. “No one is out to get her.”

Should we consider it ironic Kane’s office leaked something to the media?

Yup. Kane was super pissed somebody apparently leaked the story to the Inquirer about her decision to shutdown the sting operation of Philly politicians. She hired lawyer Richard Sprague to investigate the prosecutors in charge of the original sting operation (Fina being one of them), the story and the newspaper. Sprague said, the Inquirer may have been used by the sources of the story as a weapon to harm Kane. Sprague had previously sued the Inquirer.

Is this the only investigation of grand jury leaks in recent years?

Nope. In February 2013, Judge Barry Feudale appointed a special prosecutor to examine grand jury leaks from the Sandusky case and a 2009 case involving Louis A. DeNaples, former owner of the Mt. Airy Casino. Neither of those investigations have led to charges like this one might.

Would she go to prison if she is charged and convicted of contempt of court and perjury? 

The maximum jail-time punishment for contempt of court is six months. Perjury is much more serious. It is considered a felony and could lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years. But perjury charges are notoriously difficult to prove. So probably not.

One other Pennsylvania attorney general has faced charges in modern history. Ernest Preate pled guilty to mail fraud and resigned in 1995.

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