A fighter on the ropes
She had been holding, just moments before, a framed photo of her sons. The one that rests on a ledge inside her Scranton office. The one that reminds Kathleen Kane of all it took to become Pennsylvania's first female attorney general - and all that is at stake as she faces potential criminal charges.
She had been holding, just moments before, a framed photo of her sons. The one that rests on a ledge inside her Scranton office. The one that reminds Kathleen Kane of all it took to become Pennsylvania's first female attorney general - and all that is at stake as she faces potential criminal charges.
"Christopher will be 14 next month, and Zach is 12," said Kane, whose firstborn is easygoing like his dad, the other as A-type and ambitious as his mom. It was the start of Catholic Lent, and there were ashes on her forehead as she spoke.
Both boys, she said, are afraid their mother may go to jail. But if Pennsylvania's top prosecutor shared that fear, she did not show it as she spoke about her rise from obscurity to statewide star - a supernova that has dimmed as scandal threatens her freedom, her reputation, her career.
A grand jury says Kane leaked confidential information to a newspaper and then lied about it under oath. The panel recommended that she be charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, contempt of court, and other crimes.
Scandalized after a come-from-nowhere campaign win in 2012, Kane is incredulous over allegations she forcefully denies.
"I have plans of making this state better. I would never risk those plans, I just wouldn't," said Kane, 48. "And I would never risk my reputation. I have a good reputation.
"I am a normal, decent person. I'm a good, hardworking person," she said. "I would never risk my reputation on something like that. There's no motive for it."
This is no button-down, patient climber of Pennsylvania's male-dominated electoral ladder. Kane is from the grab-it-with-all-your-might school. A fighter.
Her grit fueled a swift rise from virtual nobody to political power player, and lifted her from a challenging childhood. But that relentless drive and determination to win may be the traits that have brought her to the brink of possible prosecution midway through her first term in office.
On Friday, two newspapers, The Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News, published editorials calling for Kane to resign. Her chief aide announced he was leaving after just four months on the job. Kane said she would not leave office.
A product of Scranton's rough-and-tumble West Side, Kane grew up with little, but learned a little something about turf.
"I'm tough," she said on a recent drive through the old stomping grounds she long ago shed for a life married to a multimillionaire. "And I have to fight for things."
Back in her office a few miles away, Kane pointed to a different framed picture near her desk, a political cartoon.
In it, a shrunken, troll-like, potbellied caricature of Republican State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe wags an impeachment memo at Kane and bellows: "Don't you back-talk me, woman!"
Similar sharp swipes at the gender divide have been echoed in other cartoons across the state, including one in which Kane opens her office door to find a room full of men viewing pornography on computers.
That one satirized her outing last year of a porn e-mail ring within the Attorney General's Office. Her disclosure cost a Supreme Court justice his job and deeply embarrassed former prosecutors, who lost high-profile posts in the Corbett administration.
Kane has taken names.
And yet, nothing in her meticulous outward appearance - bright smile, piercing blue eyes, fearlessly feminine clothes - betrays the dogged bootstrapper within.
She is a rags-to-riches survivor from one of the toughest parts of one of Pennsylvania's toughest towns. A woman who, even under the intense gaze of a criminal justice system turned to investigate her, conveys indignance alongside elegance.
"I do think there were some mistakes made," said Kane, a political novice whose seemingly flawless first year in the state's second-most-powerful elected office has devolved into a mess of scandal and recrimination.
"I am not unethical enough, and I am not dumb enough to break the law," she said.
Some say Kane brought her troubles upon herself. They dismiss her as a neophyte, lacking savvy, and defensive and foolish to ignore the advice of her own staff as glowing media attention turned sour and she took it personally.
Kane's image took its first big hit last year when The Inquirer disclosed that she had secretly shut down an undercover sting operation that caught Democratic officials from Philadelphia on tape pocketing cash. And as the newspaper reported last week, sources say Kane quashed key subpoenas in another criminal investigation, undermining a case that involved major political players from the Scranton area.
Kane says that she is the victim of conspiracy in the state's male-dominated political universe. That she has been targeted from the start by male prosecutors and Republicans who bridle at her ascension in a state underrepresented by women in elected office.
"There are a group of guys who really are angry, who really do not want me there," she said, "and they are doing everything they can to remove me."
Buoyed by $2.3 million from her husband, Kane won in a landslide that handed the office of attorney general to a Democrat for the first time in 32 years. She astonished a political establishment that had not supported her.
But amid the turmoil of the last year, many who once embraced Kane now question whether she was ready for the job.
To some, she appears to be a blundering amateur heaping missteps upon ill-advised decisions. To her harshest critics, Kane is a vengeful novice with a hardball that could use better aim.
The grand jury said Kane was a liar who committed crimes of political payback, as unflattering headlines began to replace glowing ones.
When it became news that she shut down a promising corruption investigation, the grand jury said, Kane leaked secret information about another criminal case as a counterstrike against a prosecutor she believed was trying to embarrass her.
To Kane, the suggestion of such recklessness provokes ire.
"I invested the time. I invested my family. We invested our resources into this," she said. "Do you honestly think I would ever risk that over something, over a newspaper article, that appeared in the [Philadelphia] Daily News on one day?"
As she sought to thwart the case against her and prevent the filing of criminal charges, Kane was in full fighting mode.
On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court handed her a defeat when it rebuffed her bid to stave off potential prosecution. That means Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, in whose county the grand jury sat, must now decide whether to arrest the state attorney general.
Kane is paying out of her own pocket for six lawyers, including the well-known Washington crisis manager Lanny Davis, to continue to defend her.
And yet, in some ways, the prosecutor who is now a focus of the same criminal justice system she was elected to lead is isolated. Just ask her mother.
"The people who loved her are now afraid to vocally support her," lamented Ellen Granahan Gordon, 73. "I think because they're afraid. They're afraid of what could happen to them."
Kane insists she is beyond reproach.
"I would never do anything illegal," she said. "Never."
They called it the Amityville Horror House. One in a long line of rentals the four Granahan children would call home.
So spooky was this house on a hill in Scranton's West Side that, even when Kathy and her identical twin sister, Ellen, tried to fashion the interior into a haunted house, trick-or-treaters would not approach on Halloween.
In the early days, their father, Joseph Granahan Sr., was an unemployed convenience-store worker. Then a janitor. Then a union leader. Eventually, he was a claims supervisor for the State Workmen's Insurance Fund.
Kane's mother juggled as many as three jobs that included a midnight shift, after she and her husband separated. Kane was in junior high when they split.
The Granahans often went without heat in the winter. There was comfort, though, in West Side.
"The best part of that time was, everybody was in the same boat," Kane's mother said.
Back in the neighborhood on a recent day, old friend and former Scranton-area police officer Robert Ruddy parked Kane's SUV in front of a three-bedroom, one-bathroom twin on the corner of Bromley Avenue and Lafayette Street. Kane stepped out to pose for pictures in front of her house from high school.
Seeing Kane on this well-worn block on a craggy mountain slope that rises from Scranton's downtown is to glimpse a striking blue-collar backstory.
Houses were crammed. Families were ethnic, Catholic, large, and in search of decent jobs that had largely vanished from the factories of this onetime railroad town. College degrees were scarce.
West Side has a handshake. Kane demonstrated it and laughed. But the laughter was misleading. Because West Side breeds fighters. Protectors of turf. People tough to the bone.
"Nobody was any better than anybody else," said Jeananne Agostinelli, a childhood friend, who, recently hired as Kane's scheduler, was along for the ride.
If a neighbor argued, everyone heard it, Kane said. And down the street, she noted, lived a friend whose dad was murdered. Tommy Genova was gunned down as he rushed to a school board meeting. The case remains unsolved.
Aunts, uncles - they all helped the Granahans get by. Kane's godfather, a lawyer, inspired Kane from a young age.
Their father held fierce convictions and came to be friends with many people in Scranton.
"He's very passionate about things, and if something is wrong, then somebody needs to fix it," Kane said. "There's no standing on the sidelines."
But no one was like grandmother Mary Grady Walsh. After losing her husband in his 30s, she became a high school teacher and raised all six of her children alone. She had a college degree.
Walsh was like a third parent. In retirement, she treated the Granahan kids to McDonald's, showed up on prom nights, and took the twins to the beauty parlor for perms.
As Kane's mother recalled: "She was living on Social Security herself. But she always had a couple bucks to give to them."
Scranton public schools did the rest.
At West Scranton High, Kane worked as a bus aide to make money. She was a cheerleader, in the Spanish club, and in honors classes.
At the University of Scranton, she displayed a "working-class tenacity," said Richard Klonoski, her ethics professor.
"She was as good as they come in terms of her intellectual ability," he said, "but also this certain work ethic that she brought to her academic studies, which was really quite impressive."
Kane would listen and learn. But like her siblings, she was unafraid to dismiss the counsel of others.
"I'm not going to say stubborn, although that word has been used," said one of her two brothers, Joseph Granahan Jr. "I'd hate to say single-minded. But we're just confident in ourselves.
"If we're going to make a mistake," he said, chuckling, "we're going to do it."
Early court triumph
The case was explosive - and it landed in Kane's lap.
She was just 29 and a newly hired assistant district attorney when her boss in Scranton put her in charge of a grand jury investigation that would lead to criminal charges against a sitting judge.
"I knew just by the way she carried herself, she could have done anything," said Andrew Jarbola, the Republican Lackawanna County district attorney, who was No. 2 in the office at the time.
The D.A.'s Office was small potatoes compared with the gig Kane had had in Philadelphia. But the 1993 Temple Law grad had grown weary of practicing corporate law at the Post & Schell firm.
The grand jury probe Kane was handed as one of her first cases began as an estate-fraud investigation but led to the bench of County Court Judge Francis Eagen, formerly of Orphans' Court.
As investigators zeroed in on the judge, he began pressing Kane for inside information: How was the probe going? What were witnesses saying?
Kane rebuffed his questions. And the prosecutor - who today is enmeshed in allegations that she violated the secrecy of another grand jury - delivered testimony that helped convict Eagen of obstruction of justice for his efforts to learn about the then-confidential investigation.
At the judge's 1999 trial, Kane testified that grand jury secrecy was sacrosanct.
"There are very strict rules," she said from the stand, "and one of the rules is that it is a secret process. Period. And for me to give out any information to somebody who is not going into the grand jury is actually a criminal offense."
Eagen resigned from the bench and was later convicted.
Kane was "very impressive . . . a vigorous prosecutor," said former Assistant District Attorney Frank Keaney, who worked the case with Kane.
In the years after the Eagen triumph, Kane's focus was mainly on sex crimes, a specialty that can trigger burnout even in thick-skinned lawyers.
A former colleague who shared an office with Kane did not recall any signs of strain.
"I never questioned her ability or her dedication," said Margaret Bisignani Moyle, now a county judge.
In 2007, after 12 years working full time and part time, Kane walked away.
She had married Scranton trucking-family scion Christopher Kane and had two young boys. They had moved into a new house in the tony suburb of Clarks Summit. She resigned to spend more time with her kids.
"It really shocked me," said Jarbola, "because I thought she was a career prosecutor."
A month later, the phone rang. Kane's political career was born.
An idea planted
Hillary Rodham Clinton was readying a presidential primary bid and would need help organizing near Scranton, the city where her father, Hugh Rodham, had been born and was buried.
Would Kane help get out the vote? The request came from Scranton's mayor at the time, Christopher Doherty, whose sister maintained close ties with the Clintons.
Kane's father-in-law, Eugene Kane, had been a donor to and good friends with the late Gov. Robert P. Casey. The family trucking firm, Kane Is Able, transports liquor and wine for the Liquor Control Board.
A year after marrying into the family, Kathleen Kane turned heads by donating, with her husband, more than $10,000 to Jarbola's 2001 campaign for district attorney.
Her profile grew after she went to work for Clinton. Her acquaintances included Hillary Clinton's brother Anthony Rodham, whose family maintains a vacation home outside Scranton.
After Clinton lost to Barack Obama, Kane remained in the mix.
She expressed interest in becoming a U.S. attorney in 2009. She also toyed with challenging longtime Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow of Scranton. (Mellow would go to prison several years later for corruption.)
But Scranton lawyer and campaign veteran Patrick Brier planted the one idea that took.
In a meeting with Kane, the former finance chairman for Casey said he thought she had a shot at attorney general.
Kane's brother had always imagined her one day running for office. But this ambitious, on the first try?
"If you're going to go into politics," said Joseph Granahan Jr., "usually you start off in city council or something like that. She decided she wanted attorney general - and she went for it."
Her odds were long. Top Democrats including Gov. Ed Rendell supported former Philadelphia-area Rep. Patrick Murphy in the 2012 primary.
Kane, though, had a hidden weapon. She called Bill Clinton, who held a campaign rally at a Montgomery County high school, in Murphy's backyard. She soundly defeated Murphy.
In the general election, she just as readily dispensed with another establishment rival. Republican David Freed, whose father-in-law, LeRoy S. Zimmerman, had been the state's first elected attorney general, barely had a chance.
The results? Kane - 3,125,000 votes. President Obama - 2,990,000. Sen. Bob Casey - 3,021,000.
Much of the wind in Kane's sails had come from a key move - exploiting the turbulence surrounding the 2011 arrest of Pennsylvania State University football fixture Jerry Sandusky on child sex-abuse charges.
The case provided Kane with a national platform. She made appearances on ABC and MSNBC, discussing the case as a former sex-crimes prosecutor.
Kane adroitly tapped into passions surrounding the case and its impact on Penn State's storied football program. Why, Kane asked time and again, had it taken 30 months to arrest Sandusky?
Kane said she believed politics "probably" played a role, given that the Sandusky probe appeared to have stalled while then-Attorney General Tom Corbett was running for governor.
Kane would head into office emboldened and, many would later say, unprepared.
As one ally put it: "Anyone coming into that situation starts to downplay the challenges you face. Because you say to yourself: 'I just did the impossible. I didn't just win; I led the ticket.' "
In July 2013, Kane made a high-wattage announcement at the National Constitution Center that would make her a hero to progressives: She would not defend a lawsuit against the state's ban on same-sex unions.
In making that splashy show, Kane overruled top advisers. They worried that a big rollout would look too political.
"They wanted it to be very low-key," Kane said. "They wanted it to be very noncontroversial. They wanted it sterilized."
Kane handpicked the symbolic setting for what would become a raucous news conference.
"It worked out fine," she said.
The pushback from aides, however, did not sit well.
Several times, Kane said, "they would discount my final decision. And I would have to say it two, three, four times. And that's too many times."
Kane's relationship with her aides was not particularly strong to begin with.
With no management or electoral experience, she knew and deeply trusted only one of her top lieutenants: Adrian R. King Jr., a Philadelphia lawyer and former deputy chief of staff to Rendell. The two had dated in the 1990s.
To fill other top posts, King and Democratic insiders recruited well-regarded professionals who were, nonetheless, virtual strangers to Kane.
"I knew I had people there that I could trust to get the job done," Kane said.
And yet, a year later, she would dismiss their counsel again. And it would boomerang.
In March 2014, Kane was facing the first public-relations crisis of her term.
The Inquirer had reported that Kane shut down a sting operation launched by her predecessors - one that had caught numerous Philadelphia Democrats on tape accepting money and gifts from a lobbyist who was working as an undercover informant.
Kane closed the case without filing criminal charges. She said she did so because the investigation was deeply flawed, "half-assed," and possibly tainted by racial targeting. All the officials implicated in the case were black.
After the story broke, Kane asked for a meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board. When she arrived, she brought along Richard A. Sprague, a feared libel lawyer. Kane sat silently as Sprague announced that he was considering a lawsuit.
Kane's advisers were aghast when a photograph of her sitting next to Sprague hit the Internet.
"Good God," Rendell said in a recent interview. "Why didn't she call to ask me? I would have said, 'Don't go.' It made no sense."
The criticism that followed was intense. The extent to which Kane felt besieged was evident in an e-mail exchange with her chief aide a few days later.
"You are now being perceived as weak, lacking credibility, and having something to hide (when you have absolutely nothing to hide)," King wrote in an e-mail March 24.
"Sprague was engaged to represent me, since it is my reputation, not anyone else's, that has been trashed," Kane replied at 3:40 the next morning.
"It is reassuring, though, that when it has to do with me, despite my constant defense of others, I am on my own," she continued, "nothing I am not already used to."
Kane would later call her decision to involve Sprague a major error - one fueled by a feeling that she was being attacked.
"I made a terrible mistake," she said recently. "That wasn't right."
Within days, the very communications staff she had failed to consult would destabilize. Top aide Joe Peters - a former state prosecutor and fellow Scrantonian whom Kane had hired a year earlier - resigned. He was her third top media aide. Two more would come and go after him.
"I always say I'm the Murphy Brown of communications," Kane said of the sitcom character who could not keep a secretary.
Kane said she had an open-door policy with staff and was "easygoing."
Not everyone agrees.
Kane could be "imperious" and dismissive, according to someone with knowledge of her office demeanor. "Quite frankly, she treated her staff with disdain and contempt at times."
There is no doubt that her office has been marked by considerable turnover. Along with an ever-changing communications staff, her top command has been in near-constant flux. Just Friday, Blake Rutherford quit after a brief stint as chief of staff. King and two other top lieutenants had left months earlier.
The same week that Kane consulted Sprague about The Inquirer article, she would make a devastating decision, according to the grand jury. She began plotting a leak of sensitive information to embarrass a prosecutor who had resigned after she took office, the grand jury said.
That prosecutor, Frank Fina, had run legislative corruption investigations that helped launch Corbett into the governor's office. He had also overseen the sex-abuse investigation that led to Sandusky's conviction. And he ran the aborted sting.
On his way out the door to a job with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Fina had done one more thing: He had made his distaste for Kane clear, thanks to her criticism of the Sandusky probe.
The leak to the Daily News in mid-2014 suggested that Fina had bungled an old investigation, ignoring evidence against a prominent Philadelphia civil rights leader in a case that ended without criminal charges.
A Republican judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the leak. Months later, a grand jury found that Kane had illegally disclosed confidential information to embarrass Fina, whom she blamed for the damaging revelation that she had shut down the sting.
The grand jury also concluded that Kane lied when she testified before the panel.
Kane has acknowledged releasing information to the newspaper but said she did it lawfully.
More trouble was ahead.
In June 2014, former federal prosecutor Geoffrey Moulton released a report critical of the Sandusky investigation. (Kane had retained Moulton to make good on her campaign pledge.)
Moulton found no evidence to back Kane's assertion that politics had slowed the filing of charges against Sandusky.
However, he faulted Fina and his team for delaying a raid on Sandusky's house - a step that Moulton said would have sped up the case by months. And he said they should have responded more quickly to a lower-level prosecutor who was pushing for Sandusky's arrest.
It was hardly a glowing report for Kane's predecessors. But she lost control of that message when, at a news conference, she wrongly suggested that Fina had failed to bring charges on behalf of one victim.
A day later, Kane retracted that claim.
"Observers were completely taken aback by how dysfunctional the office appeared at times," said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, "especially when juxtaposed against how effective and efficient her campaign had been."
On Sept. 25, 2014, Kane shocked yet again.
At a news conference, she revealed that scores of current and former prosecutors and agents had been swapping pornography - some of it hard-core - on the office e-mail system. (This had been discovered during Moulton's Sandusky review.)
Kane publicly identified only eight by name - men who had left the office and were in relatively high-profile posts.
The fallout was swift. Five men lost their jobs, including a Corbett cabinet member and a gubernatorial appointee. Kane's disclosure also set in motion the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, a fellow Democrat, who had been in on the exchanges of porn.
She is unapologetic about that.
"I am not killing myself to get through college and putting myself through law school and spending countless nights out on crime scenes and working my tail off and working through a campaign and putting my kids and my family through all of this to sit back and not make the changes that need to be made," Kane said in a recent interview. "It's the people's computers."
Critics were quick to point out that many of the eight had ties to Fina. While true, this oversimplifies things. Of the eight she named, Kane had worked closely with three earlier in her career.
"I wasn't elected to be everybody's friend. I just wasn't," Kane said. "The greater good is change. And the greater good is more respect for women. And the greater good is doing things better in a law enforcement agency.
"It's unfortunate," she said, "that sometimes there are casualties along the way, like a friendship."
Three of the 10 women in America who serve as attorney general found one another for a brief huddle in a ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. They stood out, surrounded by mostly men gathered for a January meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Kane chimed in as Kamala Harris, California's top prosecutor, spoke warmly to Cynthia Coffman, who had taken over just weeks earlier as attorney general in Colorado.
"You don't run the place from the top down," Harris told Coffman.
Harris and Kane also advised that it was "important to get people around you who you can trust, and get honest feedback," Coffman would recount later.
Kane was a portrait of cool. She darted from panel to panel, filmed a public-service announcement, and entertained drive-by conversations with policy advocates.
But there was turmoil in the background.
"Everybody goes through trials in their life," Kane said later as she took a break from the hubbub. "I happen to be going through two of them at the same time."
On the day after Christmas, Kane filed for divorce. Reasons for the split, she said, were "nobody's business but ours."
"Everyone is doing just fine," she said. "I tell my sons all the time, the sun rises every single morning, no matter what. You do your best every day."
The looming possibility of criminal charges is a cloud that follows Kane everywhere.
Earlier in the day, Kane walked into a hotel ballroom and was greeted with a kiss on the cheek by longtime Harrisburg insider Walter W. Cohen.
The two discussed Kane's legal travails.
Later, in an interview, Cohen said he believed Kane had stumbled, despite taking laudable legal positions early in her term.
"In the legal and political community, she's generally regarded as not ready for prime time," said Cohen, a lawyer who served as a top staffer to former Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr. before Preate was jailed for corruption. "However, I don't have a problem with what she has done in office on a number of different issues."
Beyond her stance on same-sex marriage, Kane toughened gun-ownership rules by eliminating the so-called Florida loophole. She secured annual budget increases of 11.7 percent and 5.7 percent from the GOP-controlled legislature. She also declared Corbett's bid to privatize the state lottery unconstitutional, months before the former governor withdrew the plan.
Kane remains in relatively good standing with Pennsylvania voters, although her ratings have dipped. In January, an independent poll found Kane ahead of Mayor Nutter and former congressman Joe Sestak as a potential Democratic opponent to Sen. Pat Toomey.
Among lawyers, however, Kane's standing has taken a clear hit.
"There are a number of lawyers who share my view that she is way, way in over her head and was not qualified to be attorney general," said L. George Parry, a former prosecutor and veteran defense lawyer.
"Her use of files from the Attorney General's Office to discredit her critics does not speak well for her," he said.
Longtime Philadelphia defense lawyer Dennis Cogan also questioned Kane's readiness.
"I think she was in over her head when she came in," he said. "I think some of the judgments that she made showed lack of experience."
But Cogan added that leaks of confidential information to the media are relatively commonplace and seldom lead to prosecution.
"We hear about leaks all the time from grand juries, as opposed to bribery cases and public official misconduct - that's bad stuff," he said. "A grand jury leak? Oh, come on."
Many lawyers find it astonishing that the state's highest law enforcement official is facing potential criminal charges.
Others caution against passing judgment on Kane's guilt or innocence on the grand jury leak.
Until all of the facts are out, said Philadelphia defense lawyer Angie Halim, "I am looking at it with a skeptical eye."
Still, she said, "the rumblings of controversy at the very least seem distracting to the task of running the office."
In political circles, too, Kane is wounded.
In defending her decision to shut down the sting case, Kane challenged any prosecutor to take the investigative file and bring charges. Fina's new boss in Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams, took her up on the offer. Williams has since announced charges against six Democratic officials, one of whom has pleaded guilty.
"The conventional wisdom is that she's not getting good advice - or not taking good advice," said U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, who heads Philadelphia's Democratic Party.
To Rendell, Kane has made mistakes caused by inexperience, not malice.
"I don't think she was quite ready for the adversarial nature of what Harrisburg has become," said Rendell, a two-term governor who, before that, had served for two decades in public office.
"After eight years as district attorney and eight years as mayor," Rendell said, "I made mistakes in my first year for the same reason."
Kane, for her part, has said she would not resign and has vowed to fight as long as it takes. But during moments of quiet, when she reflects on the size of the tempest, Kane says she is taken aback:
"Some days, you wake up and think: 'My God, all I wanted to do was do something good for people. How did we get here?' "