This post has been updated.
NORRISTOWN — Prosecutors says Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane was so angry about getting negative press that she conspired to destroy the reputation of the man she thought leaked an unflattering story about her. Revenge, the prosecution says, is what it’s all about.
Her defense attorneys say that anger didn’t exist — and the commonwealth is trying to “invent” a feud that was never there.
Both sides offered a glimpse into their respective strategies during opening statements this morning as Kane faces charges of perjury and obstruction in Montgomery County. Prosecutors there said she leaked secret grand jury information in 2014 in order to embarrass Frank Fina, a former prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General and a political foe of Kane’s.
“She knew it was wrong, she knew it was against the law, and she didn’t care,” Prosecutor Michelle Henry said at the beginning of her opening statement today. “She did it for revenge. And after that happened, she covered it up with lies.”
The defense doesn’t buy that, and Kane’s defense attorney Gerald Shargel said during an opening statement that “it just does not make sense that she would risk her reputation and her career” in order to embarrass Fina. He also hinted at her defense strategy: Attack the credibility of the men Kane allegedly worked with to leak an unflattering story about Fina.
This all started back in 2013 when Kane first took office. Keeping with a campaign promise, she launched an inquiry into the previous attorney general’s lengthy investigation into Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University. (That probe is what led agents in her office to come across emails passed among state officials that led to the scandal now known as Porngate.)
Despite what Kane implied while campaigning, an independent investigator working for her did not come to the conclusion that politics hindered the investigation headed by former Attorney General and former Gov. Tom Corbett.
One of the head prosecutors in the Sandusky investigation was Frank Fina, who left the Office of the Attorney General to work for the Philadelphia District Attorney after Kane was elected. Kane believes Fina was angry with her for probing the investigation he was in charge of — so she says he took an unflattering story about her to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In March 2014, the Inky ran a story alleging Kane, a rising Democrat at the time, halted a sting operation that would have ensnared several members of her own party. It was the first bad press Kane had received since taking office. And she wasn’t happy.
“She’s incensed. She’s angry. This is war. Her words,” Henry said. “And that was the beginning of her war of revenge.”
Prosecutors say Kane obtained secret grand jury information about a thwarted 2009 investigation into J. Whyatt Mondesire, the late NAACP leader in Philadelphia. That was an investigation led by Fina — one that he didn’t pursue. Mondesire was never charged with a crime and died last year. But prosecutors said today in court that Kane didn’t care about damaging Mondesire’s reputation.
They claim she worked with Josh Morrow, her consultant, and former deputy Adrian King to leak a memo and a transcript to Philadelphia Daily News reporter Chris Brennan — even though King had sent an email warning her it could be against the law. Kane’s defense team is working to paint Morrow and King as serial liars.
In June 2014, Brennan authored a story outlining the halted investigated into Mondesire. Kane’s attorneys deny she was involved in the leak and say she didn’t direct or authorize anyone to release secret grand jury information.
Now, even if it’s true that Fina leaked the original story about the sting operation to the Inquirer, that information wouldn’t be under the same secrecy laws that the grand jury investigation into Mondesire was.
The supervising judge launched an investigation though a new grand jury into the leak that Henry said came from the attorney general’s office. Henry said before Morrow and Kane testified before the grand jury, “they figured out what their story was going to be.”
The grand jury, which recommended charges against Kane, found that she lied multiple times during her testimony, and she was subsequently charged by prosecutors in Montgomery County with perjury, abuse of office and other crimes.
Prosecutors say Kane lied to the grand jury when she said she never signed a secrecy oath in connection with the 2009 investigation into Mondesire. But in fact, during a search of her office last year after she’d already been charged once, investigators found that secrecy oath signed by Kane. Additional charges were filed in October.
Kane — once floated as someone who could be governor or even president one day — is still the attorney general, though she’s working under a suspended law license. If she’s convicted, she stands to permanently lose her law license and could face time behind bars.
An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of the prosecutor.