Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane was charged Thursday with illegally leaking confidential information, then lying about it under oath and deploying aides as spies to keep a step ahead of the criminal investigation against her.
While not unexpected, the criminal charges filed by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman dealt a stunning blow to a woman who swept into office in a 2012 landslide with a promise to shake up the status quo.
Gov. Wolf, a Democrat like Kane, immediately called for her resignation. Kane said she would not quit.
"A resignation would be an admission of guilt, and I'm not guilty," she said in a statement.
Kane stood defiant and increasingly isolated after Ferman unveiled new evidence to buttress a grand jury's finding that Kane illegally planted a newspaper story to damage a critic, then perjured herself when questioned about it.
Ferman also added an allegation: illegal surveillance of e-mail. Patrick Reese, a former small-town police chief and the head of Kane's personal security detail, was charged Thursday with the illegal spying.
In a 42-page affidavit of probable cause, Ferman painted a deeply negative portrait of Kane as a Nixonian figure bent on political revenge, angry at her staff, and eager to spy on judges, reporters, prosecutors, and her own aides.
"This is war," Kane declared in an e-mail cited in the affidavit. Those words were written early on, as she prepared to plant a negative news story designed to damage a former state prosecutor she viewed as an enemy.
Kane also went to great lengths to impede the grand jury investigation of her conduct, prosecutors said. At one point, they said, she threatened to fire top staffers in her office if they did not join her in fighting back.
"If I get taken out of here in handcuffs, what do you think my last act would be?" the affidavit quoted her as telling her chief of staff, with the staffers inferring she would fire him and others if they did not do as she said.
The charges - one felony count of perjury and seven misdemeanors, including official oppression and obstruction - could doom a political career that was once on a steep ascent.
Kane, 49, the first Democrat and first woman to be elected attorney general, is now at odds with the state's top Democrat, Wolf. He said Thursday: "I am calling on her to step aside, step down as attorney general, because I think she cannot do what she has to do as the top law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania while she's facing these serious charges."
State Rep. Frank Dermody, who leads the Democrats in the GOP-controlled House, also suggested she step down.
"The charges will make it extremely difficult for her to lead the Office of Attorney General under these circumstances," Dermody, of the Pittsburgh area, said in a statement. "This is not good for that office or for the commonwealth."
Kane is the first attorney general to be charged with a crime since Ernie Preate Jr., a Republican, pleaded guilty to a corruption charge in 1995 and resigned.
The criminal charges against Kane come nearly nine months after a grand jury first recommended to Ferman that Kane be arrested. The statewide grand jury met in Norristown, and thus made its referral to that county's district attorney.
In laying out her investigation at a news conference in Norristown, Ferman said that her detectives were still at work and that others could face charges.
"No one is above the law," Ferman said. "Not even the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
She added: "When someone entrusted with upholding the law violates that oath, we are all victims."
Kane's illegal acts, the affidavit says, began almost immediately after The Inquirer published an article in March 2014 revealing that she secretly shut down an undercover sting investigation that captured Democratic officials from Philadelphia on tape pocketing cash.
According to the affidavit, Kane blamed Frank Fina, the lead investigator on that case, for the story - and decided to strike back at him.
To punish Fina, the affidavit says, Kane leaked documents to the Philadelphia Daily News that suggested Fina mishandled a long-shuttered corruption case involving former Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire.
In her zeal to harm Fina, the prosecutors said, Kane was heedless in how she "mistreated Mondesire" by dredging up a 2009 inquiry that went nowhere.
"This act of vengeance was done without regard to the laws of Pennsylvania and the defendant's obligations as the chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth," prosecutors wrote.
"Moreover, it was done entirely without regard to the collateral damage it would cause to the person who was the subject of a secret investigation and who has not been charged with a crime."
After Fina and other former state prosecutors were questioned by Daily News reporter Chris Brennan, they complained to authorities that the reporter had gained access to secret grand jury material. (Brennan is now a reporter for The Inquirer.)
This, in turn, prompted Montgomery County Court Judge William R. Carpenter to appoint lawyer Thomas Carluccio to lead a grand jury investigation of the leak.
Fina declined to comment Thursday.
In her testimony before the panel, Kane said she had lawfully authorized her staff to release nonconfidential information on the Mondesire case. She said she could not explain how grand jury material reached the media.
Ferman's investigators dismissed Kane's explanations as lies.
Building on evidence marshaled by Carluccio, Ferman said Kane, to get back at Fina, broke grand-jury secrecy law and a state law protecting investigative information.
"It should be noted that, since Kane took office, she has issued hundreds of press releases and conducted numerous press conferences through her press office," the affidavit says.
"However, rather than utilizing these same conventional means, Kane instead chose the cloak-and-dagger technique of leaking the information to the press through a political operative. The fact that Kane caused this information to be released in this secretive manner is evidence that she knew that what she was doing was not lawful."
When questioned about the leak before the grand jury, the affidavit says, Kane lied about her role, falsely claiming that a former top aide, Adrian King, joined her in the leak.
After the grand jury began investigating, the affidavit says, Kane ordered her security detail and David C. Peifer, 60, a top supervisor in her office, to "secretly or surreptitiously review e-mails of employees."
Reese, 47, has overseen Kane's security when she has traveled in Pennsylvania and beyond, often driving her in an SUV.
The affidavit calls Reese, a former police chief in Dunmore, a tiny borough outside Scranton, one of Kane's "closest confidants." It says other staffers referred to Reese as "chief of staff."
Kane granted Reese and Peifer access to her office's restricted e-mail servers, prosecutors say. And, according to the affidavit, the aides scoured the correspondence of her employees to learn anything they could about the mounting case against her.
While the affidavit says both Peifer and Reese improperly searched for information on the grand jury's investigation, only Reese was charged Thursday.
The affidavit sheds little light on the apparently disparate treatment of the men beyond noting that Peifer testified before the grand jury and saying, "Reese has refused to cooperate with investigators."
He was charged with contempt of court and will face a hearing before Carpenter.
According to the affidavit, Reese searched for information on who was being called to testify before the grand jury as well as the dates they were scheduled to appear. He even learned one grand juror's name.
Throughout, his search terms were precise, prosecutors said.
He searched for carpenter and tomc3, the beginning of a private e-mail address for special prosecutor Carluccio, the affidavit said. He also purportedly looked for e-mails sent to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Fina, who now is a prosecutor on Williams' staff.
Another target was James Barker, a former top Kane aide, who testified against her and whom she fired this spring. Kane's office has said the firing was unrelated to his testimony.
Reese's quest included search terms for the office e-mail addresses of the two Inquirer reporters whose story disclosed Kane's decision to shut down the sting case, prosecutors said.
And when the grand jury neared its conclusion on Dec. 3, Reese searched employees' e-mails for the words perjury and removal from office.
This expedition, prosecutors said, violated protective orders issued by Carpenter barring Kane from meddling in the grand jury's work or retaliating against anyone who testified before the panel.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille was surprised to learn that he, too, allegedly was a target of Reese's e-mail searches.
On Thursday, Castille, who first authorized the investigation that led to Kane's door, called for immediate official action against her and encouraged the legislature to consider impeaching her.
"That's outrageous. Outrageous," said Castille, a Republican. "That's so highly illegal, it's unbelievable."
The affidavit also contains fresh allegations about Kane's feud with Williams, a fellow Democrat.
Acting on a dare from Kane, who derided the sting case as "non-prosecutable," Williams reopened the investigation, and charged a former Traffic Court judge and five former or current state legislators. So far, four of the six have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
As her dispute with Williams flared, Kane wrote to a media strategist to say she wanted to make "Seth pay," the affidavit says. In conclusion, she wrote, "This is not over."
She also asked Philadelphia political consultant Josh Morrow - who delivered the leaked material to the Daily News - to dig up negative information on Williams, the affidavit says. Morrow refused.
Williams declined to comment on Kane's alleged plan to go after him.
In a statement, he decried the use of "surreptitious and illegal means to target other prosecutors whose official acts were perceived to harm the A.G.'s interests."
Gerald Shargel, one of Kane's defense lawyers, said Thursday that she would be "fully exonerated."
"Attorney General Kane conspired with no one. At no time did she believe that she was asking or directing anyone to do anything improper or unlawful," Shargel said. "In explaining her conduct to the grand jury, she uttered no lie."
Kane's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, brushed off talk of attempts to oust his boss before her guilt or innocence had been established.
"The attorney general plans on proving her innocence and seeking another term," he said.
Highlights of Kane Allegations
Among allegations in the affidavit of probable cause:
On March 16, 2014, The Inquirer published a story that Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane "perceived to be an attack on her personally and professionally. She became incensed at two former state prosecutors whom she believed had released the information used in the article," which detailed an undercover sting operation that Kane had shut down.
In an e-mail with her media strategist, Kane wrote: "I will not allow them to discredit me or our office. . . . This is war."
After Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams picked up the sting case, Kane said she wanted to make "Seth pay."
Kane asked a political operative "to gather negative information on Seth Williams." He declined.
Kane believed that releasing information about a former prosecutor's handling of a long-shuttered case "would publicly embarrass the people whom she believed had publicly embarrassed her."
Kane directed a top aide to deliver secret grand jury testimony from a closed case involving former Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire to the political operative, who gave it to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Kane directed two top aides to "secretly or surreptitiously review" employees' e-mails.
While the grand jury investigation was underway, Kane directed aides to search office e-mails for terms related to the grand jury, including the names of the judge, prosecutor, and two Inquirer reporters.
Kane repeatedly lied to the grand jury, "to conceal and cover up the crimes she knew she had committed."
When staff expressed concern about the leak, Kane said, "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."
Kane gave a "direct order" to staff not to cooperate with the grand jury and threatened them with termination: "If I get taken out of here in handcuffs, what do you think my last act will be?"
Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Laura McCrystal, Jessica Parks, and Matt Gelb.