Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane looks on before newly elected members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are sworn in, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Republicans who control both the Senate and House picked up additional seats in the November election. In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats 119 to 84 and in the Senate, 30 to 20. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Let’s face it: Kathleen Kane is a lousy attorney general. Her law-enforcement agenda seems to be driven mostly by politics and score-settling. The department she oversees appears to be in constant chaos, with a level of turnover that would probably get most CEOs sacked. And her attempts at damage control have hit the wrong note almost every single time. Which means she’s bad at the substance of her job, bad at the management part of her job, and bad at the political part of her job.
However, it also appears she’s being unfairly railroaded out of office.
Can both things be true? Sure. Consider this:
• If the Inquirer’s reporting is correct — we still don’t have any official confirmation, but there’s no reason to believe they’re wrong — a grand jury has recommended that Kane face charges for leaking grand jury information regarding a 2009 investigation into the finances of then-NAACP Philadelphia President Jerry Mondesire.
• It’s true that grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret and that leaking information from them is illegal. On one level, this means that Kane — who has admitted to leaking the information to the Philadelphia Daily News for a story last June — doesn’t deserve the defense we’re giving her. Illegal’s illegal, right? Why shouldn’t we move on?
• The problem is this: If Kane is charged and convicted in the case, then there are many, many officials in Harrisburg and Philadelphia who are getting away — metaphorically — with murder. Why? How often do you read in the papers about how grand juries are proceeding? Which witnesses they’ve heard from, what case is being made by prosecutors? Leaked grand jury information is a staple of news coverage, and while the law may frown on it, most of the time the law doesn’t do a damned thing about it. Leaking, in fact, seems to be the only thing juries do more often than indict ham sandwiches.
• Just to sharpen the last point a little further: The reason we believe that a grand jury has recommended charges against Kane is because somebody — or multiple persons — leaked the information to the Inquirer!
I don’t blame the Inquirer for reporting the information: That’s just good journalism. But that’s an astonishing display of nerve and hypocrisy for everybody else involved — as well as a sign that nobody else expects to get punished for the same behavior that may have Kane facing charges.
Why is Kane getting singled out for this treatment then? Is it because she’s not a member of the old boys club? It’s impossible to say at this point, but when asking the question, it’s well worth remembering one of the really good things that Kane has done with her tenure — which is to expose that gross and misogynistic boys club, operating at the highest levels of our state government. (Typical of Kane: She also overplayed her hand.)
More likely, I think, is this: Kane’s a bit of a hick.
I don’t mean to say she’s not a smart, accomplished woman. She did, however, ascend, to the highest job in state law enforcement without having served any time within the bureaucracy’s walls. Remember: She was a Philly attorney for awhile, then an assistant county prosecutor in Scranton until 2007. She came to office in Harrisburg with little experience or firsthand observations working the machinery of state government. But she’s picked fights with a few people who do have that experience — and that disparity, perhaps, has brought us to the cusp of her prosecution.
(She might also serve as a warning to incoming Gov. Tom Wolf. Kane gained office thanks largely to two factors: A deep distaste among voters for her predecessor, Tom Corbett, and a family fortune — her husband’s — that was essential in knocking out her early opponents. Sound familiar?)
It is difficult to rush to Kane’s defense when her performance has been so bad. But even Kane deserves to be treated fairly. Instead, it really looks like she’s being railroaded.
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