Pennsylvania’s attorney general is fighting for her political life.
Kathleen Kane was arraigned Saturday on charges including perjury and criminal conspiracy.
The legal battle she faces now is wildly different than the political future envisioned for her when she took office, scoring more Pennsylvania votes than President Obama as she became the first woman and first Democrat elected to the seat.
Though top Democrats are calling for her to step down, Kane has said she is innocent and will fight the charges while remaining in office.
Regardless of her innocence or guilt, Kane’s tenure has been dotted with red flags: public missteps about cases; turmoil within her office; and a habit of keeping the media, and the public, at arm’s length.
Once elected, Kane made major misstatements that forced her office to backpedal. She alleged that the slow pace of a major child sex abuse investigation under her predecessor gave a child predator time to find new victims. The explosive statement turned out to be false.
On another occasion, Kane incorrectly alleged that employees of the attorney general’s office had exchanged emails containing child porn.
Kane also spoke publicly this year about an ongoing grand jury investigation into Harrisburg city’s finances. Her office later declined comment about the same case, citing grand jury secrecy.
Under Kane, the attorney general’s office botched a corruption case at the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Eight people were charged with bilking the state out of millions of dollars, but none saw prison time. Reporter Brad Bumsted, with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review followed the case closely. He said it was understaffed, with just one prosecutor on board.
“She’s there by herself,” said Bumsted of the case’s lone prosecutor during an appearance on Pennsylvania Newsmakers, “while there are eight attorneys on the other side for the defense, and these are very good defense attorneys … I mean, she’s not up against rookies.
For former Attorney General Ernie Preate, the allegations of the present can be traced back to the media’s failures of the past. Preate resigned from the AG’s office in 1995 after pleading guilty to a mail fraud charge. He said the press never checked out Kane’s campaign-trail claims that she prosecuted hundreds of cases.
“When I ran for attorney general, I had to bring, for example, the case numbers of the 19 murder cases that I prosecuted, the verdicts of five death penalty cases I got,” said Preate. “I had to show them.”
The state’s top news outlets were divided on the value of Kane’s experience as an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna Country. But it’s true that her resume received minimal scrutiny. In a debate with her 2012 opponent Republican Dave Freed, she was asked about her lack of managerial experience.
“I am a mother of two boys who are sitting right over here. I can see what they’re doing over there and pay attention to Mr. Freed and everyone else,” said Kane with a laugh. “So I am a good multitasker.”
Office turnover during Kane’s tenure is well-documented. She chewed through six press secretaries in two years.
Several top deputies resigned. Others are said to have their things packed in a box next to the door in case they’re the next ones to go.
And then there’s her poor relationship with the press. Kane frequently dodged reporters, even when it seemed to do her a disservice. She refused to appear on a WITF talk show if she would have to respond to live calls from listeners.
One of Kane’s first big moves upon taking office was to make the rare decision to skewer a state contract, sinking Republican efforts to privatize the state lottery. She delivered a brief statement and declined to answer questions.
“I want to get back to the work of the commonwealth,” Kane said. “I wish all of you a very happy Valentine’s Day.”
Chuck Ardo, Kane’s current spokesman, said Kane’s missteps are undeniable. But he added that she faced resistance as the state’s first elected Democratic attorney general.
“There was certainly an old guard in the office that did its best to undermine her from the day she was elected,” said Ardo. “There is very little argument about that.”
The first response to the indictment last week came not from Kane’s defense lawyer, but from the Office of Attorney General. In the written statement, Kane promised to fight the charges and said her office would continue to “fulfill its mission to protect and serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.” It was not the first time she insisted that her own fight furthers that end.