HARRISBURG - The Senate panel exploring whether to launch the process of removing Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane from office voted unanimously Monday to put before the full Senate a measure that would do just that.
The chamber is expected to vote this week on whether to hold a formal hearing early next month. The hearing would focus on whether Kane, who is facing criminal charges and has had her law license suspended, can continue to function as the state's top law enforcement official.
If the chamber approves the move, Kane's hearing would be held on Jan. 12. The attorney general would be given the opportunity to testify or submit a sworn statement, and present evidence. Her lawyer also would be allowed to speak on her behalf.
The full Senate would vote later on whether to remove her.
Kane, a Democrat, has questioned the authority of the chamber to take her out of elective office, saying the only legal way to do so is impeachment, a process that begins in the House.
In an interview Monday, her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, would not say whether Kane would testify or whether she was considering legal action to try to stop the process.
"She continues to believe the Senate's action violates the Pennsylvania Constitution," he said.
Ardo also questioned the Republican-controlled Senate's timing - a week after Kane announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to examine a trove of pornographic and other offensive emails that she discovered last year had been traded among prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and other law enforcement officials.
Kane has said she believes the conspiracy, perjury, and other charges she faces for allegedly leaking confidential information have been "corruptly manufactured" by angry Republican men bent on blocking her from exposing the email scandal.
In a statement Monday, Kane again said she had been targeted because of her attempt to expose the emails, which she believes reveal a too-chummy relationship among judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.
"Seldom do the machinations of the 'old boys' network' become so public," she said. "The people of Pennsylvania would have learned none of this if we hadn't taken up the fight. They would have learned none of it if the powerful forces aligned against me had succeeded in keeping me quiet."
She added: "And make no mistake: I intend to tear down this network once and for all through my appointment of the special prosecutor."
In seeking to remove Kane, the Senate has relied on a rarely used provision in the constitution that allows the governor, following a two-thirds vote in the Senate, to remove an official from office for "reasonable cause."
Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, has called on Kane to resign, but has not said what he would do should the Senate approve her ouster.
Senators are examining the narrow question of whether Kane can do her job without an active law license. The state Supreme Court temporarily suspended Kane's ability to practice law after she was criminally charged.
The constitution requires the attorney general to be a member of the bar, and there has been debate over how much decision-making authority Kane, whose office handles hundreds of criminal and civil cases, can continue to have.
A seven-member, bipartisan Senate committee held several hearings on that question last month, during which constitutional and legal ethics experts as well as Kane's own top deputies testified that many of her duties and decisions require an active law license.
They questioned whether Kane could even continue putting her name on agency letterhead, let alone make decisions on sensitive criminal and civil cases the office is handling.
Kane has said she believes the majority of what she does is "administrative and ministerial," and that she can carry out "98 percent" of her duties.
The Senate committee voted by 5-2 last month to forge ahead with a removal proceeding.
On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to hold the formal removal hearing, which would take place before the same seven-member committee.
After the hearing, the committee would have 15 days to submit a report to the Senate, which would then hold a final vote on whether Kane can remain in office.
Kane's term ends in January 2017. She has said that she does not believe she will be able to run for reelection because of her suspended license. But she has vowed to remain in office while fighting the criminal charges.