Facing Impeachment, Pennsylvania AG Kathleen Kane Won't Seek Re-Election

by | February 17, 2016

By Craig R. McCoy and Angela Couloumbis

Facing criminal charges, a suspended law license and potential impeachment, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane on Tuesday said she would not run for re-election.

Her decision to forgo seeking another four-year term comes after weeks of defiantly stating that despite her legal troubles, she intended to run again for the state's highest law enforcement office.

At a hastily called news conference in her hometown of Scranton, Kane, who filed for divorce in 2014, said she was now a single mother and had to put her two sons first.

"While this was not an easy decision for me, while I love Pennsylvania, I love my sons first," said Kane, 49, the first Democrat and first woman elected to the office.

She added: "You have to think about your family. You just have to. I love being the attorney general, I love serving the people of Pennsylvania. I hope that they know that, and I hope that they feel that."

Kane made her announcement just hours before the deadline to submit nominating petitions to get on the primary ballot.

Had she run, she would have faced a potentially bruising primary battle while awaiting the start of her criminal trial, which is scheduled for this summer. And she would have done so with very little campaign cash on hand _ her latest campaign-finance forms show that she raised no money in 2015, and used much of what she had to pay her lawyers and others involved in her defense.

In an interview Tuesday, former Gov. Ed Rendell said that while Kane still enjoys public support, she made "the right decision."

He said a re-election campaign would distract her from mounting a vigorous defense against the criminal charges she faces and seeking to have her law license reinstated.

"She could never raise enough money to be competitive," the longtime Democratic leader said.

Three Democrats have announced they will seek the nomination for state attorney general: Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli. (In a pointed rebuke to Kane, Rendell endorsed Shapiro this month.)

Two Republicans _ Sen. John Rafferty of Montgomery County and Joe Peters, a former organized crime prosecutor, who worked in Kane's office for a short stint _ are vying for the GOP nomination.

Kane's term ends in January.

Candidates running for her job praised what several said was surely a "difficult" decision for the attorney general, while also stating clearly that they believed it was time for change in the state's top law enforcement office.

"I think Ms. Kane's decision today was very personal and difficult," Morganelli said.

Shapiro said the focus should now shift to cleaning up "the ethical mess in Pennsylvania, and then protect everyone in our commonwealth by going after the special interests that stack the deck against everyday Pennsylvanians."

Last summer, Kane was charged with conspiracy, perjury and other crimes for allegedly leaking confidential information in a bid to punish a former state prosecutor, Frank Fina, with whom she was feuding.

Prosecutors say she believed Fina was behind a Philadelphia Inquirer story that revealed that Kane, shortly after taking office in 2013, had secretly shut down an investigation that had captured Democratic legislators from Philadelphia on tape accepting money from an undercover operative.

The case was resurrected by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, for whom Fina now works. Williams later charged six current or former elected officials in the case, five of whom have pleaded guilty or no contest. Three resigned their public positions.

Kane has pleaded not guilty in her criminal case, and her trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.

Kane has said she believes her legal troubles stem from her efforts to expose an email scandal involving prosecutors and agents in her office swapping pornographic and other offensive messages on government computers with judges and other law enforcement officials.

Her critics have said she has wielded those emails as weapons, releasing selected messages that embarrass enemies or people she believes have wronged her while refusing to make public the entire trove in her possession.

The scandal so far has resulted in the resignations of top government officials in the administration of former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, the abrupt retirement in 2014 of state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, and pending ethics charges against another justice, J. Michael Eakin.

Fina was among dozens of law enforcement officials who swapped pornographic or offensive emails. Facing mounting pressure to fire Fina and two other city prosecutors who participated in the exchanges, Williams reassigned them last fall.

During her announcement Tuesday, Kane said she would use her remaining months in office to "continue to tear down this network of corruption that we've seen in Pennsylvania _ a network that is tearing apart our judicial system."

"When we accomplish all of that, I will rest peaceably and easily, knowing that we marched into hell against an unheavenly foe and we won," she said.

After Kane was criminally charged last summer, the high court temporarily suspended her law license, leading to furious debate over whether she could continue functioning as the state's top law enforcement official. The state constitution requires the attorney general to be a member of the bar.

The Senate, invoking a rarely used constitutional provision, launched hearings last fall to determine whether Kane could continue running the 800-member agency without an active law license or whether she should be removed from office.

Last week, the GOP-controlled chamber failed to muster the two-thirds vote it needed to oust her.

Kane had called the effort unconstitutional, and said she believed the only legal way to remove her from office was through impeachment, a much lengthier process that begins in the House and ends with a trial in the Senate.

Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly to launch impeachment proceedings against Kane, a process that could take months.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republicans, said Tuesday that the chamber will continue with the process even in light of her announcement.

"This is about whether she engaged in misbehavior in office, not whether she should run again," he said.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer