“Lies, leaks and lawnessness.”
That’s how prosecutor Michelle Henry portrayed the actions of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane whose criminal trial officially got underway Tuesday morning with opening statements. Kane is on trial for perjury, conspiracy and obstruction among other charges.
Henry, a first assistant District Attorney from Bucks County who is assisting the Montgomery County D.A.’s office in bringing its case, laid out for the jury of six men, six women and four alternates how Kane allegedly orchestrated the release of secret investigative material to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter.
But in a dramatic opening line, Henry began with the alleged motive: “Revenge,” she said. “Revenge is best served cold.
“Her words,” she said, nodding at Kane, who sat with her defense team and watched Henry closely as she presented the state’s case against her.
Henry argued Kane was “incensed” by a March 16, 2014 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer that described how she declined to pursue criminal charges against Democratic lawmakers caught taking gifts from an undercover operative.
The man she blamed for that negative press is Frank Fina, a former state prosecutor who later joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
One month later, Henry said Kane came across information showing Fina had failed to prosecute the former Philadelphia NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire and instructed her second in command, Adrian King to deliver a memo and a transcript of testimony to political operative Josh Morrow. In May, Morrow delivered the documents in an envelope to reporter Chris Brennan (then with the Philadelphia Daily News), who published a story about it on June 6, 2014.
“The Attorney General of Pennsylvania, she wants to get something out, she has a press conference, right? No,” Henry said. “It’s cloak and dagger the way this gets out. In an envelope, the secret documents.”
‘It makes absolutely no sense’
Kane’s lead defense attorney, New York City-based Gerald Shargel painted a much different picture. He described Kane’s rise from being born and raised in working-class Scranton, Pa. to winning a historic election as Pennsylvania’s first female attorney general. As for her feud with Fina, “it makes absolutely no sense,” Shargel said.
“The attorney general cared not one whit about Frank Fina,” Shargel told the jury, pointing out Fina left the AG’s office to work for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams almost immediately after Kane was sworn into office. He claimed the two hardly knew each other and had met once or twice before.
Shargel blamed the illegal leak on King and Morrow, who he said told shifting stories about their roles during a grand jury investigation.
As for Kane, she wanted information about the Mondesire probe released to the public, but she never authorized the leak of secret documents to do so. In fact, she “never had access to those documents,” Shargel said.
Kane’s attorney did admit she made “honest mistakes” during the grand jury investigation into the leak, such as claiming she had not sworn an oath to keep the leaked documents confidential.
Prosecutors presented evidence showing Kane had, in fact, signed a secrecy oath two days after she took office in January 2013.
‘I was shocked’
They also called Bruce Beemer to the stand.
Now the state’s Inspector General, Beemer was special counsel and chief of the AG’s criminal prosecution division when he met with agents Michael Miletto and David Peiffer to discuss the 2009 Mondesire grand jury. Beemer advised the men that the statute of limitations on that case had passed and there was no way to pursue it further.
Some months later, in his new role as Kane’s first deputy, Beemer said he was “shocked” to read an article in the Philadelphia Daily News referencing secret documents from the Mondesire grand jury investigation.
“My reaction was, ‘Who’s giving out police interviews or reports out of our office?'” he said. “As I reviewed article a little bit more, then I realized there’s a lot going on here and a lot of problems and one of them certainly, the grand jury.”
Beemer’s testimony is expected to continue tomorrow when the trial resumes at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.
The trial is expected to last through the end of the week.
This story was updated at 5:30 p.m.