Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s first elected female attorney general, announced her resignation Tuesday, a day after being convicted of abusing the powers of the state’s top law enforcement office to smear a rival and lying under oath to cover it up.
Kane’s exit completes a spectacular fall for the former county prosecutor who soared to victory four years ago as an outsider who promised to break up an “old-boys’ network” in state government. She squandered her early popularity, feuded with rivals and aides, and ultimately was undone by what prosecutors portrayed as a personal vendetta for her critics and perceived enemies.
Now, Kane is facing jail time and cannot even practice private law after the suspension of her law license.
Kane’s office issued a two-sentence statement saying she would resign at the end of the workday Wednesday.
“I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I wish them health and safety in all their days,” said Kane, a Democrat.
On Monday night, after hearing days of testimony about petty feuds, political intrigue and “cloak-and-dagger” machinations, a Montgomery County jury convicted Kane of all nine counts against her, including perjury, obstruction and official oppression.
Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy ordered Kane to surrender her passport and threatened to jail her if she retaliated against the once-trusted aides who testified against her.
Kane’s lawyers vowed to appeal.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf had urged Kane to resign since she was charged a year ago, and leaders of the state Senate’s Republican majority threatened a vote to order her removal from office if she didn’t step aside immediately.
On Tuesday, Wolf called Kane’s situation “unfortunate.”
“Her decision to resign is the right one, and will allow the people of Pennsylvania to finally move on from this situation,” Wolf said in a statement.
Wolf gave no details about any plan to appoint a replacement for the remainder of Kane’s term, which was due to end in January. The Senate would have to approve his pick. Voters will select a new attorney general in the November election.
Two years of turmoil
The two years of turmoil in her office left Kane isolated in Pennsylvania’s political, legal and law enforcement communities. She saw an exodus of top aides and fumbled corruption cases, and she made a string of eyebrow-raising accusations that later turned out to be unfounded.
After she was charged, the state Supreme Court suspended her law license, and she drained campaign funds to pay legal bills. She became the second attorney general to resign in disgrace since voters first elected an officeholder in 1980; Ernie Preate in 1995 was the first.
Kane, 50, ran as an outsider in 2012, financed by campaign cash from her then-husband’s family trucking fortune. On the campaign trail, she promised to investigate why it took her Republican predecessors three years to charge former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with child sex abuse and whether politics played a role.
She won in a landslide, becoming the first Democrat and woman ever elected to the office, and earned early praise from Democrats for refusing to defend a legal challenge to the state’s law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. The law was struck down in 2014.
Kane’s honeymoon as attorney general ended in March 2014, when The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that she had shut down an undercover sting that had caught a Philadelphia judge and five state lawmakers taking cash payments or gifts.
Kane’s criticism of the Sandusky case had triggered a bitter feud with the investigators who handled the case, and Montgomery County prosecutors say she suspected they had leaked the unflattering story to the Inquirer.
Seeking payback, she ordered aides to leak secret investigative information to the Philadelphia Daily News in an effort to show that her perceived enemies had bungled a 2009 probe into a Philadelphia NAACP official, prosecutors said.
“This is war,” she wrote in a 2014 email to a political strategist.
A special appointee concluded that the Sandusky case had not been dragged out for political reasons. But the inquiry unearthed a trove of interoffice emails containing sexually explicit images and crude jokes about women and minorities.
As authorities began building the leak case against her, Kane ordered the release of email chains, saying the misconduct allegations against her were concocted by a corrupt network inside law enforcement to stop her from exposing their raunchy exchanges. The email scandal ultimately precipitated the resignations of several high-profile state officials, including two state Supreme Court justices.
But the judge would not allow Kane’s lawyers to raise the email scandal in court as the motive to prosecute her.