HARRISBURG - As Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane waits to hear whether she will face criminal charges, she is presiding over an office awash in backbiting, anxiety, and fear.

Current and former staffers say it's a workplace where supervisors go through office phone records to see who is calling whom - and talking for how long.

It is a place where Kane's chief of staff officially complained that someone pawed through his briefcase while he had stepped away.

And last week, detectives from the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office searched the place, looking for evidence of wrongdoing by Kane.

As Kane's woes have mushroomed, numerous staffers say the atmosphere in her office has grown increasingly poisonous. They describe Kane, 49, as isolated and incommunicative, hewing tightly to a group of loyalists and shutting out prosecutors and agents she sees as not on her team.

They say she has become preoccupied with finding out who might have provided damaging information to investigators or reporters.

Seemingly endless staff shake-ups and resignations have only deepened foreboding.

Though the work of the 833-employee office churns on - Kane boasts that arrests of child predators are at a record high - morale has hit rock bottom.

"It's a discouraging place to work," said John Flannery, a prosecutor who quit this month after working at the office for two decades. "There is no well-defined chain of command or decision-making process. Everyone is constantly looking over their shoulder."

A veteran agent agreed. "It's like they are shooting a hostage every day. Everyone is petrified," said the agent, who, like others in the office, asked not to identified because he feared reprisal.

Kane declined to be interviewed. Her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, the sixth to hold the post in 30 months, dismissed the discord as "watercooler chatter."

"There is an old guard committed to fighting the changes that this attorney general was elected to make," Ardo said.

Building her brand, Kane focused on drug busts and child-molestation cases, somewhat de-emphasizing the corruption cases more associated with her Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Her office says arrests of sex offenders have climbed dramatically, from 19 the year before she took office to 167 last year. Drug arrests are up by a third.

Still, those trends have been largely drowned out by months of punishing news stories about Kane's rejection of a pair of major corruption cases, her feud with former prosecutors, her retractions of misstatements, and most ominously, a grand jury's recommendation that she be criminally charged.

The panel voted in December to urge that Kane be arrested on charges of perjury, official oppression, and other offenses for leaking confidential investigative material to a newspaper to embarrass a critic.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who must decide whether to prosecute Kane, is conducting her own investigation of the attorney general, building upon the work of the grand jury.

In all, two grand juries have investigated Kane. One, meeting in Norristown, developed the leak case that Ferman is evaluating.

The other, still in session in Philadelphia, is focusing in part on Kane's decision not to prosecute six Democratic elected officials caught on tape taking money or gifts from a lobbyist in an undercover sting investigation.

A number of Kane's top aides had to troop down to the two grand jury rooms. As news of their testimony became public, the aides - and Kane - had the discomfiting experience of reading stories detailing how their testimony provided damaging information about her.

Judges in charge of both grand juries issued protective orders barring any retaliation against witnesses.

Even so, Bruce Beemer, the office's first deputy attorney general, moved to safeguard witnesses last year by issuing a warning to the staff.

"It has come to my attention that a witness before a grand jury may have been the recipient of inappropriate comments by an employee or employees of the Office of Attorney General," Beemer wrote in a memo obtained by The Inquirer. This, he warned, "will not be tolerated."

The stress has taken its toll.

According to staffers, Kane has become less visible - often working out of a regional office near her home outside Scranton, rather than in Harrisburg - and less involved in cases.

Her focus, they say, has often been on identifying in-house critics.

Some longtime prosecutors say privately that they have stopped using office telephones, even to call home. Phone records have been pulled for a handful of employees who have unexpectedly found themselves subject to internal affairs investigations.

Others say they have begun sticking tape on their doors before leaving at night because, rightly or not, they fear their offices are being searched once they depart.

Kane, too, has tightened security. In the spring, she sharply scaled back after-hours access to the agency's executive suites. Only a handful of people are now allowed in.

She did this after a chief of staff, Blake Rutherford, discovered that his briefcase had been rifled, Kane's office confirmed.

Rutherford quit in the spring after only four months on the job. The office has not found the culprit in the briefcase search.

"You can't run a law enforcement agency this way," said one top Kane staffer. "The majority of people spend their time and effort fighting each other."

With the resignations of a series of top aides, the turnover has been striking. The trend peaked in April when James P. Barker, 53, the longtime appeals chief, was called back from a hearing in Philadelphia, fired, and escorted from the building.

Kane, herself under investigation for allegedly illegal leaks, said she had fired Barker because he had not cracked down on leaks.

His departure had an immediate - and negative - impact.

Barker oversaw the office's fight against an appeal by Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach seeking to overturn his child sexual-assault conviction.

Earlier this month, the new prosecutor on the case, Jennifer Peterson, asked for more time to file court papers, blaming the delay on Barker's "sudden and unexpected departure" and the resulting "heavy caseload."

Barker was among those named in news accounts as having given grand jury testimony critical of Kane. Ferman is now looking into whether his firing violated the judicial protective orders.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Barker said the night he was fired. "I had no idea this was coming."

As the first Democrat and first woman elected attorney general, Kane was bound to create waves when she took office in 2013. She took over an office long dominated by Republicans and a workplace with an entrenched rough-and-tumble culture averse to change.

As the new boss, she brought in a fresh group of top aides and strengthened a newly active internal affairs unit.

The strains within the office multiplied last year once Kane revealed that scores of former and current prosecutors and agents had routinely used office e-mail to swap pornographic pictures and videos.

Technical experts dug up the e-mails after Kane commissioned an inquiry into how past state prosecutors had pursued the Sandusky investigation.

In the end, she disciplined about 65 employees, ranging from a top prosecutor making $138,000 a year to an office fix-it person.

Kane has portrayed herself as a fighter against an "old boys' " network. "I challenged the old regime," she told a television interviewer this month, explaining her difficulties. "I think this could be payback for that."

Since she took office, her internal affairs unit has, among other things, investigated one agent for allegedly calling Kane a sexually offensive name, though the inquiry could not confirm the allegation.

To critics on her staff, Kane's indignation over the porn rang hollow.

Shortly after meting out the widespread discipline over the X-rated e-mails, Kane was photographed having a drink with a veteran agent implicated in the porn scandal. The picture of Kane, the agent, and several others was taken at the Pennsylvania Society in New York City for the annual gathering for the state's political elite.

The snapshot has circulated among staffers in the office.

"The hypocrisy with her is ridiculous," said one person who received a copy of the photo. "I think the quote she made was that she was disgusted [about the porn]. But you're having drinks with this guy?"

The most polarizing move Kane made in recent months was appointing narcotics chief Jonathan Duecker, 51, as her latest chief of staff.

News stories soon disclosed that Kane had promoted Duecker only days after receiving an internal affairs report that two women in the office had accused him of making unwanted sexual advances.

Duecker declined to be interviewed. Ardo has said Duecker disputes the women's contentions.

A few days after the promotion, as The Inquirer has reported, Kane's own personnel office recommended she fire Duecker.

Instead, Kane has sought to rally support for him. Late last month, she lobbied the Fraternal Order of Police, union for the office's 89 narcotics agents, to write a letter in support of him. The FOP's executive board refused.

As Kane's new top aide, Duecker told the staff not long after his promotion that he was taking charge of hiring and firing, assuming functions once handled by Beemer, still the office's first deputy attorney general.

"ALL personnel issues come through me to the General," Duecker wrote the staff. "The First Deputy is not in my or your chain of command."

Duecker has also asked most of the office's support personnel - excluding the 450 prosecutors and agents - to resubmit their resumés. More shake-ups are coming, he signaled.

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