A political consultant to Kathleen G. Kane testified Thursday that the Pennsylvania attorney general was deeply involved in orchestrating an illegal grand jury leak and that the two of them plotted a cover-up, conspiring to pin the crime on an estranged former top aide.
"We had conspired to create this story that wasn't true," Joshua Morrow said Thursday as he took the witness stand at Kane's perjury trial in Norristown. "Kathleen and I came up with a story that she was going to testify to and I was going to testify to."
He said they hatched the scheme in August 2014 at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Center City. Before the meeting, he said, two members of Kane's security detail picked him up at a nearby street corner and drove him to a parking garage, where they took his cellphone, wallet, and keys, and searched him with a security wand "to see if I was wearing a recording device."
Her security detail performed that same drill at two other meetings he had with Kane, including one in which she met him, "frantic," in a park near her home outside Scranton, he told jurors.
In the meeting at the Bellevue, Morrow said, Kane stunned him by telling him a grand jury was investigating an illegal leak of secret documents from the Attorney General's Office - documents that Morrow had passed on to a reporter at Kane's request after receiving them from Adrian King, then her top deputy.
Morrow said he and Kane agreed to blame the leak on King, who had left Kane's staff and had a strained relationship with her. Morrow pledged to lie that Kane never saw the leaked documents.
His account Thursday was the first public airing of his allegation that he and Kane plotted to cover up their leak.
Morrow, 43, who was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation, admitted his story had changed over time.
"To protect Kathleen," he said, he stuck with his initial story, lying in three grand jury appearances and modifying his accounts until he decided to tell the full truth days before trial. He received an updated immunity agreement with prosecutors Wednesday.
In a rigorous cross-examination, Seth Farber, one of Kane's lawyers, repeatedly suggested that Morrow had no credibility left.
"Would it be fair to say, Mr. Morrow, that no matter what you say, no matter how much you change your testimony, you don't get charged with a crime?" Farber asked.
"Correct," Morrow replied.
While Morrow said he finally decided to tell the truth because he wanted to do the right thing, he acknowledged that his motivation was spurred when detectives confronted him with phone records that cast doubt on his original story.
He changed the tale a bit, he said, when "I realized the lie was starting to unravel."
Last month, Morrow said, he went to meet with detectives again, came clean, and provided text messages he had exchanged with Kane.
"The burden of keeping this lie . . . it was affecting me personally in relationships and professionally," he said.
Kane, 50, is charged with perjury, conspiracy, obstruction, and other crimes. Prosecutors say she illegally leaked secret grand jury information because she wanted to exact revenge on a critic, former state prosecutor Frank Fina.
Morrow and other witnesses have said Kane blamed Fina for a March 2014 article in the Inquirer disclosing that she had secretly shut down a promising undercover corruption investigation. The probe, run by Fina, had caught Democratic elected officials from Philadelphia on tape accepting cash from a lobbyist.
To strike back at Fina, prosecutors say, Kane orchestrated a leak to the Daily News, planting a June 2014 story suggesting that he had failed to vigorously pursue an investigation into the finances of a Philadelphia civil rights leader in 2009.
In April 2014, Morrow said, Kane called him to discuss the planned leak and described the documents to be delivered to plant a story. He said the two later agreed at the Bellevue that he would falsely say Kane had asked him to call King, but gave him no further information.
Morrow said Kane had "a lot of animosity" toward Fina and leaked the documents to embarrass him. Morrow also disliked Fina and said he believed Fina had treated him unfairly in an investigation.
He and Kane often shared their mutual dislike of Fina in the spring of 2014, Morrow testified.
After the secret material had been passed on to the Daily News, Morrow texted Kane: "What's the saying about revenge?"
"Best served cold," she replied, according to text messages Morrow recently provided to prosecutors that were displayed at trial.
As it happened, the newspaper did not publish a story for several weeks after the handoff of the documents. Kane grew restless, Morrow said.
"Where's my story? I'm dying here while you are drinking," Kane texted Morrow one evening.
Morrow said he had tried to protect Kane because she was a friend. Working for her 2012 election was "one of the crowning achievements of my career," he said. Each time they talked after plotting the leak, Morrow said, "we reiterated the lie - that she never saw the documents."
Kane showed little reaction to Morrow's testimony. She was accompanied to court by her parents, twin sister, and other relatives who sat in the front row of the courtroom.
In court, prosecutors played a recording of a call that Morrow made to a friend the night before he was to pick up the leaked documents from King's home.
In the call, Morrow expressed doubt about whether the leak made political sense and called Kane "unhinged."
"Kathleen called me today and she's like, 'Adrian has documents for you to leak out,' " he said in the call. "She doesn't have a strategy to do this. She's like, 'Let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.' "
In a strange overlap of political corruption cases, FBI agents were recording the call because they had placed a wiretap on the phone of the man Morrow was calling: John Lisko, then a top aide to state Treasurer Rob McCord. McCord has since pleaded guilty to attempted extortion.
In another part of the taped conversation, Morrow's remarks seem to undercut King's earlier testimony that he had no idea he had served as a courier of confidential grand jury documents.
While talking with Lisko, Morrow said King had advised him to drive to his home to get the documents and then blot out all names in them, except for those of Fina and an associate so they would take the brunt of any negative publicity. "You can pick them up and, like, redact names," Morrow said King told him.
Kane's lawyers have acknowledged she sought to alert the public that the office had failed to pursue allegations against the civil rights leader. But they have insisted that she did this out of a commitment to transparency, not as part of a vendetta.
In the call taped by the FBI, Morrow described Kane as bent on disseminating information harmful to Fina.
"Kathleen called me today about Frank Fina killing an investigation," he told Lisko at one point.
Earlier Thursday, Kane's lawyers concluded their cross-examination of King, Kane's former top deputy, onetime boyfriend, and longtime friend. King testified that he left the envelope containing confidential grand jury materials for Morrow to pick up - but insisted he did not know at the time what was inside it.
From the witness stand, King accused Kane - more than once - of trying to set him up and pin a crime on him.
Farber, one of Kane's lawyers, asked King if he had been repeating his version of events since the leak investigation began.
"I've testified truthfully to that, and that's all I've done time and time again," King said.
Prosecutors will continue presenting their case when the trial, before Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy, resumes Friday morning.