Pennsylvania Attorney General Kane will stand trial in grand jury leak [updated]

     Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane rushes through a media gauntlet on her way to court in Norristown, where she was ordered to stand trial on charges of leaking grand jury material. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane rushes through a media gauntlet on her way to court in Norristown, where she was ordered to stand trial on charges of leaking grand jury material. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    There’s nothing about the case of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that doesn’t feel weird in one way or another, and her preliminary hearing Monday on charges she leaked secret grand jury information and lied about it was no different.

    After an hour of testimony and argument, Magistrate Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar ordered the state’s top prosecutor to stand trial on all charges. That was no surprise. Most preliminary hearings go that way.

    Bur for weirdness, you could start with the fact that Kane’s twin sister, Ellen Granahan, was there and was, at times, swarmed by photographers thinking she was the attorney general.

    Then there was the moment during testimony when Kane’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said in passing that Kane knew that Frank Fina, the former prosecutor Kane allegedly had it out for, had a collection of thousands of pornographic emails.

    If you’ve been following this drama, you know that in Kane’s only public comment on the charges so far, she suggested that pornographic emails her office found on state computers in an unrelated investigation will somehow explain the case against her and lead to her exoneration.

    The judge shut down Shargel’s attempt to open that subject Monday, and when I asked him afterward to explain his comment, or even confirm that I’d heard him right, he declined to do either.

    When reporters all but begged him to explain the connection between the porn and the charges against Kane, he said we’d have to wait for trial.

    “It’s a good question and an important part of the case,” he said, “but I’m not going to try the case in the media.”

    I tried to reach Fina via email without success. He told the Associated Press, “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve learned not to respond to the claims of criminal defendants, or their lawyers.”

    How strong is the case?

    As I reread the charging documents and listened to the testimony, it struck me that prosecutors can certainly make a case that Kane was ticked off at Fina, blaming him for an embarrassing March 2014 Inquirer story about a corruption investigation she chose not to pursue. (The grand jury in the Kane investigation found no evidence Fina was behind the story.)

    And there’s no doubt that a few months after that,  a story appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News based on information from a 2009 grand jury investigation that might have caused Fina some embarrassment.

    And it seems clear Daily News reporter Chris Brennan got secret material from a political operative who got it from a top deputy to Kane.

    The evidence so far about what Kane personally did and knew is a little less clear, and there may be opportunities for her attorneys to stir up some dust clouds of reasonable doubt.

    A lot will depend on the testimony from top people in her office, and one of them, Special Agent David Peifer took the stand Monday and contradicted Kane’s version of events. 

    Shargel did his best to tear holes in the prosecution’s case, raising objections that caused some extended sparring with Judge Reber.

    “I’m not here as a potted plant. I’m here to represent my client,” Shargel said at one point.

    Shargel said afterward he wasn’t surprised that the case is going to trial, and that he expects to present a vigorous defense and win acquittal.

    It’s not clear when that will happen. Kane will be arraigned in Common Pleas Court in October, and given the extensive discovery period, the trial itself might not occur until next year, when she says she’ll be running for re-election — which will be weird.


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