Kane opens new ‘porngate’ offensive

     Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces the appointment of independent counsel to investigate the transmission of pornographic and discriminatory emails by public officials. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces the appointment of independent counsel to investigate the transmission of pornographic and discriminatory emails by public officials. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Kathleen Kane isn’t backing down on “porngate.” She’s doubling down.

    Pennsylvania’s embattled attorney general has appointed former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler as a special deputy attorney general to investigate “tens of thousands” of emails exchanged among government officials.

    If you’ve followed this saga at all, you know that hundreds of emails with pornographic, racist and homophobic content have already emerged in the scandal, tainting the reputations of many and ending the public careers of some.

    Kane has insisted that her legal problems, which include criminal charges that she leaked secret grand jury material, are the result of men who “corruptly manufactured” a case against her to hide their dabbling in porn.

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    At a news conference at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Kane said she has to press forward with a thorough investigation of the email content because the men trading it exhibit behavior that “violates that the Constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States, to which these men are sworn to protect.”

    Question of authority

    Kane’s criminal charges are just one of her problems. She’s facing a move by the state Senate to remove her from office, and she’s in the awkward position of having a suspended law license, which prevents her from acting as a lawyer.

    She said her appointment of a special investigator is within her administrative powers and is unaffected by the license suspension.

    “And to the few who challenge [that], including some members of my own staff, I pose a simple three-pronged question,” Kane said. “Are you a white male? Are you or one of your buddies in this email network? Are you trying to get my job without the benefit of having to run for it and being chosen by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania?”

    Kane refused to take reporters questions, one of which would surely have been, “Why appoint a special investigator now, a year and a half after the emails were discovered?”

    I asked that of Kane’s spokesman Chuck Ardo afterward, and he said that the other investigations of the emails so far were conducted by men.

    At that point, Karen Langley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted the obvious: The new investigator, Gansler, is a man. “And a white guy,” someone else noted.

    Ardo said that Gansler is being charged with his task by Kane, a woman.

    Fair enough, but Gansler said when he spoke that he will have no contact with Kane over the course of the investigation to maintain his independence.

    Inspector Gansler

    Gansler did take questions from reporters, with all the self-assurance of someone who’s run for office several times. (He lost the gubernatorial primary in Maryland last year.)

    He said he and his investigative team – four people from his Maryland law firm – are the right ones to look into this mess because they have no ties to Pennsylvania and no preconceptions.

    “I’ve not seen one email from this case, and that’s the point. We are independent. We will remain independent,” Gansler said. “We will go with the facts wherever they lead us.”

    Asked what he’d be paid, Gansler said, he’d make on an hourly basis what the attorney general makes, about $158,000 a year, and others at the firm would charge discounted rates. He said the entire investigation should come in at under $2 million.

    There have been calls for a comprehensive investigation of the emails lately, some from legal authorities who believe they suggest an inappropriately close relationship among some prosecutors, lawyers, and judges.

    The written charge for Gansler provides that among the criminal acts he should consider are “improper disclosure of criminal investigative or grand jury matters,” as well as “evidence of improper collusion, lack of impartiality and independence” among parties in the legal system.

    He also said under questioning that he believes transmission of pornographic material is a misdemeanor, though rarely prosecuted.

    Colorful moments

    It was interesting to see Kane interact with members of the Harrisburg press corps, who seem frustrated by her refusal to answer questions. She was interrupted once during her remarks by a reporter asking about some emails involving her staff she hadn’t released.

    After a representative from Philadelphia NOW read a statement praising Kane’s appointment of the special investigator, Steve Esack of the Morning Call asked what she thought of Kane making someone her chief of staff who was accused of fondling a female colleague. She said he could submit a question in writing.

    But Kane certainly came ready with some zingers.

    In explaining the urgency of the issue, she said, “No woman should go to work and be subjected to consistent treatment of disgusting indignity by woman haters, because they were born with one less body part, which, the last I heard, does not contain any extra brain cells.”

    Like I said, she’s not backing down.

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