In a stunning development, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that an investigating grand jury has recommended criminal charges against Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, in connection with the leak of information about a 2009 grand jury investigation.
Citing “sources familiar with the grand jury presentment,” the paper reports that the grand jury recommended that Kane be charged with perjury and contempt of court.
What’s it all about?
If you’ve followed the strange events around Kane all year, you’ll recall she’s been involved in a ferocious war of words with some former prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office, in particular Frank Fina, who now works in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. Kane was embarrassed by a February story that she’d killed a public corruption investigation Fina had supervised in which politicians were recorded taking cash.
The current matter stems from what might be called a payback story that appeared in June in the Philadelphia Daily News. It suggested Fina had perhaps botched an investigation into the misuse of public funds by Jerry Mondesire, the former president of the Philadelphia NAACP.
That story about the 2009 investigation quoted confidential grand jury material that Kane presumably had an interest in leaking.
The state Supreme Court then appointed a special prosecutor to conduct a grand jury investigation, and now we have the Inquirer report that she’s charged with criminal misuse of secret grand jury material and lying about it to the investigating grand jury.
My inquiries to Kane’s office were referred to her attorney, Lanny Davis, who said in a statement late Thursday that Kane “told the truth to the grand Jury at all times.”
Because of the unusual origin of the investigation, it may be some time before we learn whether Kane is actually charged. Normally, a grand jury’s findings result in immediate charges. But in this case Special Prosecutor Thomas Carluccio was named solely to conduct the investigation and not to handle any resulting prosecution.
So the grand jury report now goes to Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. A call to her office late Thursday was not returned. She’ll presumably take some time to review the evidence and figure out how to proceed.
If Kane is charged, she won’t be the first state attorney general in such a circumstance. In the mid-90s, Attorney General Ernie Preate was charged in a federal investigation of video poker operators throwing money around to politicians. He pleaded guilty and resigned from office.
I asked George Parry, an attorney and former state prosecutor, if Kane could stay in office if she’s charged with contempt of court and perjury.
“I don’t see how,” Parry said. “But look, she was elected, and unless somebody wants to impeach her and remove her from office, I guess she could stay on to the end of her term. I don’t believe she could be at all effective.”
If she were to leave office, a new attorney general would be appointed by the governor, presumably Democrat Tom Wolf if Kane were to leave after he’s sworn in Jan. 20. The nominee would be subject to confirmation by two-thirds of the state Senate.
Here’s the full text of the statement from Kane’s attorney, Lanny Davis:
“I cannot confirm the posted report in the Philadelphia Inquirer of any presentment issued by the Grand Jury regarding Attorney General Kathleen Kane. If such is the case, then it is my understanding … that it is up to the Montgomery County District Attorney to make a judgment as to whether to proceed against the Attorney General. The Attorney General has done nothing wrong or illegal and, to my knowledge, there is no credible evidence that she has. She told the truth to the Grand Jury at all times. I hope the District Attorney will reach same conclusion.
“This anonymous leak to the Inquirer about this alleged presentment could be, in and of itself, a possible violation of the state Grand Jury Secrecy Act. I wonder why the supervising judge who appointed the special prosecutor to investigate the Attorney General hasn’t initiated a grand jury investigation of this leak or any of the other previous leaks from this same Grand Jury process.”