STATE ATTORNEY General Kathleen Kane's Porngate news conference looked as if it were going to derail just a few minutes after it began yesterday morning at the National Constitution Center.
Krishna Rami, of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, criticized District Attorney Seth Williams for continuing to employ former state prosecutors - and key players in the never-ending email drama - Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington, but then seemed stunned when reporters tried to ask her a question.
A reporter also tried several times to interrupt Kane's subsequent speech, correctly assuming she would leave the stage without answering a single question.
(Kind of defeats the purpose of a live news conference, in Clout's humble opinion. But we digress.)
A lot happened on stage - and, let's face it, a lot has happened with this long-running scandal, which has turned the Attorney General's Office, the state Supreme Court, the state Judicial Conduct Board and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office into sideshows.
Kane officially announced that she'd appointed former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to lead an independent probe of "tens of thousands" of emails exchanged years ago by scores of state employees and members of law enforcement.
Clout knows you're having a hard time keeping track of this story - which is really dozens of stories tied together by vendettas and stupidity - so we helpfully broke down yesterday's presser into three admittedly unoriginal categories.
It started as Porngate. Then it became Hategate. Now we're just trying to find the exit gate.
This scandal is like one of those old Magic Animal Grow Capsules. New arms and legs are sprouting everywhere, as Pennsylvania's top law-enforcement official dutifully sprinkles it with water.
But the potential upside to Kane's appointment of an independent prosecutor - assuming she has the power to do so - is that someone from outside this ass-backwards state finally might get to the rotten core of our criminal-justice system.
Previous attempts have failed. Miserably.
Last year, for instance, the Supreme Court hired special counsel Robert Byer, who found that offensive emails sent and received by state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin were largely "unremarkable."
The state's Judicial Conduct Board also cleared Eakin of wrongdoing.
"The board appreciated your cooperation with its investigation," the board's chief counsel, Robert Graci, wrote to Eakin on Dec. 17.
But the Daily News reported last month that Graci is a friend of Eakin's, and helped Eakin get re-elected when he was up for retention in 2011.
Graci, who failed to disclose that conflict, stepped down from the latest Eakin email investigation after the story was published.
Then, the Inquirer reported that Judicial Conduct Board member Eugene Dooley had received sexually explicit emails from former Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery. That conflict was not disclosed, either.
And Judicial Conduct Board Chairwoman Jayne Duncan has been represented by attorney Heidi Eakin, the wife of Justice Eakin - who also is representing him in the current email investigation. Duncan reportedly has recused herself from the Eakin case, although she won't say when that happened.
The Supreme Court's second special counsel, Joseph Del Sole, issued a report Oct. 30 calling the Eakin emails "offensive, tasteless, insensitive, juvenile and repugnant to reasonable sensibilities."
Del Sole referred the matter to . . . wait for it . . . the Judicial Conduct Board.
The board, by the way, operates under a veil of secrecy. Which works great for the mob, but maybe not so much for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania (see above).
So, an independent prosecutor from Maryland? Could be a good thing.
If you are a judge, a prosecutor, a defense lawyer or a state employee who sent or received any of the smutty, misogynistic or racist emails, the independent probe is bad news.
For one thing, it means the story isn't going away anytime soon. And there's a chance it could get much worse. Gansler pledged to conduct a transparent investigation that will end with a public report and the likely release of a gazillion more graphic emails.
And if the independent investigators find that child pornography was shared on some of those emails - a possibility, based on some of the images already released - or that, say, grand-jury material was improperly shared, criminal charges could be filed against anyone who passed it around.
Kane's team kicked off the news conference with a brief slideshow that projected some of the emailed images onto a massive screen in the Constitution Center's posh auditorium.
"Irish Sunglasses," read the caption on a photo of a woman with a horrendous black eye. "Free pair when you forget dinner."
"Thank you, Mr. Daniels. Thank you, Mr. Guinness. Muchos Gracias, Senor Tequila," read the caption on a photo of what appeared to be an unconscious young woman.
Others clearly mocked African-Americans.
There's no getting around it: This is dark, disturbing stuff, considering that it was shared for laughs by people who are supposed to uphold the law.
Kane has her own faults - remember that still-looming criminal trial? - but Clout thinks it's hard to argue with her assertion yesterday that this culture and behavior are intolerable.
- David Gambacorta and William Bender