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AG Kane declares innocence, vows to fight

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane proclaimed her innocence on criminal charges Wednesday, and blamed her legal troubles on enemies trying to conceal their involvement in emails laced with "pornography, racial insensitivity, and religious bigotry."

Pa. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane reads her statement at the Capitol Media Center in Harrisburg. She is charged with conspiracy and other crimes. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Pa. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane reads her statement at the Capitol Media Center in Harrisburg. She is charged with conspiracy and other crimes. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)Read more

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane proclaimed her innocence on criminal charges Wednesday, and blamed her legal troubles on enemies trying to conceal their involvement in emails laced with "pornography, racial insensitivity, and religious bigotry."

Kane, charged with leaking confidential grand jury information and lying about it under oath, said she would not step down as the state's highest-ranking law enforcement official, despite calls to do so from Gov. Wolf, a Democrat like herself, and other officials.

"I am innocent of any wrongdoing," Kane said. "I neither conspired with anyone, nor did I ask or direct anyone to do anything improper or unlawful."

Kane, 49, the first woman and first Democrat to be elected attorney general, is charged with conspiracy, perjury, obstruction, official oppression, and other crimes. The head of her security detail, Patrick Reese, is also charged. Prosecutors say Kane ordered him to illegally spy on others involved in the grand jury investigation by reading their emails.

In her first public comments since prosecutors brought the case against her last Thursday, Kane focused not on the criminal acts they say she committed, but instead on the so-called Porngate.

That scandal flared last year when Kane revealed that prosecutors, investigative agents, and other staffers in her office had exchanged X-rated emails on state computers on state time, in a practice that began years before she took office. She said Wednesday that her effort to crack down on the porn set in motion events that culminated in the criminal case against her.

"Some involved in this filthy email chain have tried desperately to ensure that these emails - and more important, their attachment to it - never see the light of day," Kane told reporters at an afternoon news conference.

"Make no mistake, the stakes for these individuals, whose participation in this email chain have remained concealed behind the cloak of grand jury secrecy, could not be higher."

Without connecting the dots, Kane said some of those involved in the porn exchanges were "assisted wittingly or unwittingly by judges and prosecutors" to have her removed from office.

She cited Judge William R. Carpenter, the Montgomery County Republican who launched the grand jury investigation that led to the criminal charges. Kane said that Carpenter's "tortured" reasoning in a judicial order had blocked her from naming all of those involved in the porn email.

Critics immediately characterized Kane's assertions as an exercise in misdirection, raising a tawdry scandal - the porn exchanges - irrelevant to the charges against her.

The porn has "nothing to do with the grand jury leak," former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said Wednesday.

At the news conference, Kane called on Carpenter to authorize her to release all of the porn emails, unearthed by her office in an unrelated inquiry, and permit her to identify all recipients.

She also said the state's disciplinary board for lawyers should halt any possible effort to revoke her law license - a step that would force her from office - until Carpenter ruled on her request.

After Kane ended her 15-minute statement without entertaining questions, reporters pressed her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, to explain the link between Kane's criminal charges and the emails.

"You'll have to ask her attorney," Ardo said.

Gerald Shargel, Kane's lead defense lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

Kane's detractors also questioned her assertion that she had been muzzled by Carpenter in the case of the X-rated emails.

The judicial order she criticized makes no mention of porn. Rather, it bars Kane from retaliating against witnesses in the investigation of what prosecutors say was her illegal leak of confidential documents. The protective order, not uncommon in grand jury inquiries, did not name any specific witnesses in the case, but such witnesses included current and former members of Kane's staff.

Carpenter issued the protective order in August 2014. A month later, Kane did not see it as a barrier to the public naming - and shaming, via a computer display of selected porn emails - of eight former state officials who had shared the material.

Five of the eight, including top appointees of former Gov. Tom Corbett, almost immediately lost their jobs.

Kane has never explained why she released only those eight names among the scores of former state employees who had shared in the emails.

Her office also named four employees she fired after they continued to circulating porn despite her order to end the practice. She did not name about 55 other workers who were disciplined over the X-rated material, saying union contracts forbade her from doing so.

In more fallout from the scandal, a justice of the state Supreme Court, Seamus McCaffery, quit after it was publicly disclosed that he had also taken part in the email traffic.

As Kane was asserting Wednesday that she was barred from releasing the names of the email recipients, her office continued to oppose a public-records request filed by The Inquirer for the names.

Her office contends that the emails are not public record because the exchanges of porn were not part of the agency's regular business.

Simon Campbell, a conservative political activist, has also filed a request under the open-records law seeking names.

Kane's office rejected that request, too, saying, in part, that identifying the employees "could constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy." Kane's lawyers did not cite Carpenter's order as a reason to deny the information, Campbell said.

Earlier this week, Kane's spokesman said she would answer questions about the criminal charges in Wednesday's news conference. Instead, she told reporters she could not field questions or engage in "a freewheeling, give-and-take press conference" for fear of violating Carpenter's order.

Carpenter could not be reached for comment.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who brought the case against Kane, declined to comment Wednesday on Kane's remarks beyond noting that "every criminal defendant has a right to speak on their behalf."

In an affidavit laying out her case against Kane, Ferman said the attorney general had sought revenge against a former top state prosecutor, Frank Fina, who she believed had provided information for a newspaper story that questioned her decision-making in an undercover investigation.

That March 2014 article in The Inquirer reported that Kane had secretly shut down a sting operation that had caught Philadelphia Democratic officials on tape pocketing money and jewelry.

After Kane denounced the investigation as poorly run and possibly tainted by racism, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams resurrected the case and charged six former or current officials. Four have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

To strike back at Fina, who supervised the aborted sting, prosecutors say, Kane dug up a long-shuttered case and orchestrated a leak designed to embarrass him by suggesting that he, too, had shut down an important investigation.

Kane admitted giving confidential information on that investigation to a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, but said she did so lawfully.

The documents given to that newspaper suggested that Fina had failed to aggressively pursue 2009 allegations that J. Whyatt Mondesire, then head of the Philadelphia NAACP, had mishandled state money. Mondesire was not charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors say that the delivery of that information was criminal, and that Kane knew it and lied to the grand jury to cover up her actions.

Fina, who declined to comment Wednesday, has said he handled the Mondesire inquiry properly. Fina had been a top corruption prosecutor under Corbett when he was attorney general. After Kane took office, he moved to Philadelphia to join Williams' staff.

Fina is also among those who shared in the X-rated emails, sources have said. All eight officials named by Kane as having received porn had close ties to him when he was a state prosecutor.

Though Kane never said Fina's name Wednesday, her remarks could be read as a complaint that Carpenter's protective order had barred her from naming him publicly as being in the email chain.

Kane is the second attorney general to be charged with a crime in the last 20 years. In 1995, Ernest Preate Jr., a Republican, resigned from office and pleaded guilty to a mail-fraud charge in a federal corruption investigation.

As she denied the criminal charges and derided her foes Wednesday, Kane touted the work of her office and said her staff had performed well in the face of controversy. She cited a surge in arrests of child predators, among other statistics.

Vowing to fight on, Kane closed her remarks with a sentimental message to her sons, 12 and 14, who she said had learned about her criminal charges from a news broadcast.

"I made a promise that I was going to finish a job and that I was going to do it," she said. "That's where we stand today. I hope that if you're faced with a fight, you get in there and fight. . . . While no one would blame you if you bypassed a fight, I hope you stay in it. Because I'm staying in it."

Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.