It’s been 2,814 days since then-Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama delivered a groundbreaking speech on race here in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center, after his former Chicago pastor’s controversial speeches, caught on video, made headlines.
The same building was the backdrop for an announcement Tuesday from Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane. But rather than acting to save a candidacy, Kane — indicted on criminal charges, working under a suspended law license, awaiting possible impeachment — is acting to save her political life. Today, the chief law enforcement officer of Pennsylvania talked up the hire of a team of outside lawyers to investigate pornographic and racist emails of some of this state’s most powerful people in the courts and the legal community.
“We’ve reached a point in Pennsylvania where some government leaders have lost their sense of dignity, duty and civility,” said Kane, after playing a slideshow of racist emails about black teenagers at prom, as well as others making light of domestic abuse and sexism.
Kane announced today she has hired former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler to lead a team tasked with probing tens of thousands of emails. Then Kane left the stage without taking questions, leaving those to Gansler.
For his part, Gansler told reporters his team has full subpoena and grand jury power, and he’s being paid as a deputy attorney general. The anticipation is to get the review finished “expeditiously” and keep costs below $2 million in taxpayer money.
Gansler’s team will comb through thousands of emails, flagging unethical or illegal communications, and once the review is completed, a final report will be drawn up, and any corresponding criminal charges will be filed by Gansler, who says he’d also prosecute criminal cases that could arise.
“The scope is very broad because we don’t know where it’s going to take us,” he said. “We don’t want to be looking at the entire Pennsylvania criminal and judicial system.”
The former attorney general opened his remarks by lightly chiding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for stripping Kane of her law license before due process could play out and claimed the Senate’s bid to kick her out of office lacks constitutional muster. But Gansler also said he and his team are independent of the attorney general and will have limited communications with her office as the investigation plays out.
Gansler himself is no stranger to controversy. In 2013 he had to respond to questions about why he was present at a party during beach week where there was apparently underage drinking taking place by high schoolers. That came just a week after The Washington Post reported that he had state troopers in Maryland break traffic laws so he didn’t have to wait around to get to routine appointments.
And if she’s removed from office while Gansler’s team is reading through all those emails? According to the charging documents for the team, it’s really up to her.
The court of public opinion has largely turned on Kane. Once the darling of the state Democratic party in and a woman who people speculated could one day run for governor, nearly half of Pennsylvanians believe she should be removed from office.
Yet Kane still has supporters who believe she’s been unfairly persecuted by an “old boys’ club.”. That support derives from a campaign promise kept, one that surfaced the pornographic emails at the center of Tuesday’s announcement: A probe into the state’s investigation into convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University.
For Penn State alumna Wendy Silverwood, support for Kane stems from her anger over the handling of the Sandusky child sexual abuse case. Silverwood and many other Penn State supporters believe the late football coach Joe Paterno and three other administrators were improperly vilified in connection with Sandusky’s crimes.
Silverwood says she sees the same thing happening to Kane. Information is leaked the press and the court of public opinion is swayed, she said, away from the work being done by Kane to uncover smutty and racist emails being passed around the commonwealth’s most powerful men.
“This is not a jelly donut, this is actually more like a Tiramisu; lots of layers that all stem from Penn State,” she said. “And it’s been an eye opener in due process. What they’re doing to her is poisoning public opinion. Isn’t that exactly what happened to the Penn State administrators?”