The Rise and Fall of Kathleen Kane
Ruth Lenahan remembers the feeling she had when she sat down with her friend Kathleen Kane in a political operative’s office in downtown Scranton back in 2011. Kane had been a prosecutor for Lackawanna County for a dozen years, but left in ’07 to raise her two young sons. Now she was restless, and thinking of running for some office. The year before, in 2010, she’d promised to take on a corrupt state senator, Bob Mellow, but was pressured not to by her husband’s family, which owns a large trucking company — taking on Mellow meant risking the loss of a huge state liquor-hauling contract. So she backed out. But now there was a new office to run for, one that seemed to fit her: state attorney general, which, after governor, is the most important elected position in Pennsylvania. And Ruth Lenahan’s feeling about her friend was profound: She was awestruck.
By Kathleen Kane’s courage. They’d worked together in the Lackawanna D.A.’s office, and Kane had a wonderful story, Lenahan knew. She grew up in hardscrabble West Scranton in a broken family, worked her way through the University of Scranton and then Temple Law, and practiced workers’ comp law in Philly before coming home to a natural fit: prosecuting sexual-abuse cases, assault, rape, elder abuse, fraud. Kane had a record of protecting those in desperate need, and something maybe even better — she didn’t see any point in working her way to the top. “Kathleen doesn’t buy into any particular mold,” Lenahan says. “She doesn’t think like that.” Never mind that she had never held any elective office. Why wait? Why start small? Why not go for what you really want? “Kathleen has more confidence than I can ever imagine having myself,” Lenahan says.
It’s still easy to feel that in Kane’s presence, even after a year that’s put her job in serious jeopardy. Though it’s not so much confidence as her drive, a passion that seems to blaze from her. You see what others saw early on, the county Dems and then the state movers and shakers, all the way up to Bill Clinton; the Clintons had taken note of Kane when she was overseeing volunteers in Lackawanna County for Hillary’s ’08 presidential run. It helped that she and her husband, Chris, had also given at least $30,000 to various Democratic candidates over the years. Bill would eventually show up in Montgomery County to help sew up Kane’s nomination for A.G. over Patrick Murphy. She’s a firebrand — that’s what they banked on, everybody who saw what she could become — and she could play as something brand-new.
The attorney general’s office was ripe for change: For 32 years, it had been run by Republicans. And it was controlled by politics, as Kane saw it; she made that point central to her campaign, in effect running against Governor Tom Corbett’s unpopularity. She railed that as attorney general, Corbett had stalled the case against child molester Jerry Sandusky in order not to rile Penn State Nation, which was certainly something she’d take a hard look at as A.G. Moreover, the A.G.’s office had operated for a long time as a nasty boys’ club, rife with sexist jokes and fooling around. Kane knew all about that — her twin sister, Ellen, was a prosecutor there.
Under Kane, things would be different. Starting with Frank Fina.
Fina was the star prosecutor under Tom Corbett — the guy who made the governor’s career, in fact, by taking on political corruption in Harrisburg and then sending Sandusky away for the rest of his life. Fina hates politicians in general and corrupt ones in particular; he put House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, among others, in prison. Fina takes a special pride in how loathed he remains in the state capital, and his approach to skimming the top off Harrisburg’s political elite is infamous: Secretaries and other minions were often brought to tears by Fina or his investigators, who threatened them with jail if they didn’t rat on their bosses. Balls to the wall — that’s Fina’s style. And an atmosphere Fina and his fellow gunslingers called “fuck fuck” reigned in the office. It meant there were no holds barred on anybody who worked there — they could get busted or teased or ridiculed about anything.
All that would end under Kane.
Frank Fina was toast once she was elected. The Sandusky case was the biggest of his career, and Kane’s allegations about how it had been mishandled spelled his doom; they would never be able to work together. He took a job with Seth Williams in the Philly D.A.’s office even before she was inaugurated.
But something strange happened: Kathleen Kane couldn’t let Frank Fina go, even though he was no longer there. She claims that isn’t so. “I’ve been in law enforcement all these years and we’ve never crossed paths,” she says in her office in Scranton one recent afternoon. “He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. So it can’t be personal.” Yet it’s soon clear that Fina is an obsession. That he’s become someone she has to defeat. So Fina can’t give her up, either — he certainly isn’t going to run from a fight. Especially against Kathleen Kane.
Even through Kane’s first, glorious year as A.G., when she made several gutsy, high-profile decisions — especially her declaration that she wasn’t about to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which at that point still seemed bold — her interest in Fina bubbled up. Even as there was talk of national office. Even as Hardball’s Chris Matthews broached the notion that she might one day … run for president!
Even through all that, she couldn’t let her obsession with Fina go — couldn’t conquer her desire to somehow do him in. Kane’s political confidants were worried. Ed Rendell, for one, was warning her in regular pep talks: It isn’t necessary to kill your enemies. You win by doing your job. You really win by getting reelected.
But she wouldn’t let go. Or couldn’t. And with that, everything would unravel.
Kane has had a catastrophic year, with a series of public dustups that all feature Frank Fina in one way or another, culminating in a grand jury’s recommendation that she be prosecuted over leaking information to the Daily News about an important case she accuses Fina of letting go cold while he worked for the attorney general. She also could be charged with contempt of court for firing a prosecutor in April as retribution — he had testified to the grand jury in the first case. Kathleen Kane is in deep trouble.
With that, and with devastating speed, she has killed her own story. The up-from-nothing saga, the breath of fresh air that would change the way our attorney general operates, no longer makes any sense. When that happens, we rush to find a new story, to fill the vacuum. To figure out, in other words, just who Kathleen Kane might really be.
THEY’VE SPOKEN to each other once.
Frank Fina had quit for the D.A.’s office in Philly, but he stuck around for Kathleen Kane’s first three days as A.G. to pass on information about his ongoing cases; there were at least a dozen, with boxes of files lining the walls of his office, and Fina complained that he had been trying for months to find somebody on Kane’s team interested in learning what was in them.
The day after Kane’s inauguration on January 15, 2013, when Fina came into his office early and turned on his computer, something was wrong with it. When IT came to check it out the following day, Thursday, the problem wasn’t hard to diagnose: Fina’s hard drive was missing. It had been removed in the night.
Fina went ballistic, and that set the tone for a transition meeting he had with Kane and about 10 high-level staffers that morning, in the office’s stately conference room that looks out on the Capitol. Fina already couldn’t abide Kane, given how she’d campaigned on the Sandusky case being rife with politics. Now he was a security risk?
Office heavyweights Adrian King, Linda Dale Hoffa and Bruce Beemer came to the debriefing; Fina arrived last, sitting at the end of a long table, with General Kane two seats away, her back to the Capitol.
Fina is tall, thin, balding, and very intense. He stared at Kane: “I’m going to do these from memory — I don’t really have any choice but to do these from memory. I had prepared a transition memo for you, but that was on my hard drive.” There was laughter — a couple career employees at the table knew they were on the way out, too, and could chance it. Kane had no reaction.
Fina’s cases included one on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Cambria County: “Now, Madame Attorney General, this case is in a grand jury, so” — now Fina slowed to a crawl — “it … seems … to … me, one of the decisions you need to make is whether you keep it in a grand jury. I know during your campaign, you were very clear in this regard” — that grand juries getting involved in sexual abuse cases imposes an unconscionable delay — “but to the extent you want to hear it, there is no way you will ever be able to pursue one of these cases involving the Catholic Church without a grand jury. And if you looked nationally, probably with 27 seconds’ work on Google, you’ll see that virtually every case involving the Catholic Church has gone through a grand jury. … ”
Kathleen Kane was like glass. She showed Fina nothing.
But the really good case was coming. For three years, Fina had overseen an ongoing sting case in which a confidential informer named Tyron Ali pretended to be a lobbyist in order to snare state legislators willing to take bribes.
At the meeting, Fina informed Kane that she was in no position to oversee that case, because she had a conflict: Dan McCaffery, now a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge, had been her master of ceremonies at the inauguration two days earlier, and McCaffery had accepted an illegal campaign donation from Ali while running for district attorney of Philadelphia in 2009. When the McCaffery camp realized the donation was improper, the checks were returned, and the incident — which predated Ali’s undercover work for the A.G.’s office — was reported by a McCaffery staffer to the attorney general’s office. But there was something else: At a fund-raiser at Fireside Tavern for Traffic Court judge Michael Sullivan in the spring of 2012, McCaffery spied Ali and gave him a pat-down, Ali told the A.G.’s office. (“No such thing ever happened,” Judge McCaffery says; Ali could not be reached for comment.) Luckily, Ali wasn’t wearing a wire. But Fina worried that Ali’s cover had been blown and suspended the sting operation for several months.
Fina informed Kane’s staff that he didn’t think she could properly protect Ali, given her relationship with Dan McCaffery. Fina certainly also knew that McCaffery’s brother Seamus, then a state Supreme Court justice, was close to several investigators in the A.G.’s office. Ali’s name might just get blabbed all over.
“I wish you would have told me this three days ago,” Kane said — which presumably would have precluded McCaffery from M.C.-ing her inauguration.
“Madame General,” Fina said, “I wish you would have talked to me three days ago. I was here, and I very much wanted to talk to you.”
Fina informed Kane of one more thing: He’d decided to send the case to the FBI in Philadelphia, to see if they’d take it.
Soon, Fina got up and left, after making it patently clear to everyone around the table — Kathleen Kane’s senior staff — just what he thought of the attorney general: a woman from Lackawanna County whose prosecutorial caseload had mostly consisted of juveniles in trouble, and who had spent the past couple of years at home, being, of all things, a mother.
KATHLEEN KANE NOW SEEMS nonchalant about Fina’s performance that day when she was the brand-new attorney general. “What was I going to do, sit there and argue with him? You know, he was leaving. Why would it be personal?”
In fact, it would soon become very personal. Fina, the state’s renowned prosecutor, was the poster boy for big-time law enforcement. So Frank Fina was very important to Kane. As much as she went out of her way to dismiss him and his methods, Fina was the gold standard of success; she may have gotten to the top spot, but Kathleen Kane hadn’t yet proven a thing to prosecutors like him.
Out of the gate, though, she seemed like a natural. Kane had a knack for hitting high-profile issues and coming out on top. She closed the “Florida loophole” on guns, stopping Pennsylvania residents who had been denied permits here from getting permits from Florida that let them carry concealed weapons in this state. She made gutsy decisions on the lottery, pushed to get $170 million in tobacco settlement payments back into state coffers, got drug and child predator units up and running. Then there was DOMA: Her refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, laid out at a press conference at the National Constitution Center in July of her first year, seemed to put her on the right side of history at a politically perfect moment.
It was a very good first year.
But there were serious problems brewing all along, early signs that Kane was in over her head running an agency with 745 employees. She commuted from Scranton to Harrisburg, which meant she’d show up at 10 and often hit the road at three. (She now rents an office in Scranton, which gives her even less time with her staff.) She responded slowly to staff emails and texts. And despite her early successes, Kane didn’t seem to understand her role as the public face of the office. It was half the job, a senior staffer advised her, to sell her agenda, to work the press. It’s crucial. “That’s not what I was elected to do,” Kane complained. She’d been spoiled by the press early. When the coverage turned more critical, she started avoiding the media.
Still, she clearly craved attention. When she was fighting Patrick Murphy for the Democratic nomination in 2012, Kane complained bitterly about how the two of them were received at a party fund-raiserin Montgomery County: She got polite applause when she was introduced, and the room went absolutely wild for Murphy.
After the event, Kane was beside herself, a campaign adviser remembers: “Can you believe it? They were hooting and hollering for him. I can’t believe it.” The adviser reminded Kane they’d been in Murphy’s backyard — enthusiasm for him there was to be expected. “That was insane,” Kane said. She wanted to be done with those Montgomery County Democrats, if that’s how they thought. The adviser told Kane it was pretty foolish to cut off party faithful she might need because they didn’t clap enough. “Maybe we won’t need them,” Kane said. “That was insane.”
Her continuing obsession with the attention Murphy got — Kane grew to hate Patrick Murphy — hinted at a toxic mix: She was insecure but entitled. She would be front and center. So minor criticisms in the press enraged her. She would tell a staffer to demand that a newspaper remove an offensive post or print a press release verbatim, as if she thought she could actually make that happen.
As A.G., Kane couldn’t seem to stop herself from trying to have her hand in far too much. Early on, a frustrated adviser finally shared a devastating portrait by James Fallows in the Atlantic of Jimmy Carter’s mania for control, including his signing off on use of the White House tennis courts. The way Kane explains her own problems with her message-makers doesn’t help her cause: “I equate myself to Murphy Brown,” she says with some pride. “Remember how she was with her secretary? I don’t know what it is. I’m a good writer. My grandmother was an English teacher, and when it comes to me, the grammar needs to be right, and the punctuation needs to be right, it needs to make sense, it needs to be interesting, it needs to flow, and I haven’t found that yet. It’s important to me, we’re putting that out to the public, it’s a reflection on us, a reflection on me, they are our communicators. I can’t possibly do it all, and I just haven’t found the right mix.”
As they say, the devil is in the details.
Kane was determined, at any rate, to make good on a certain campaign promise. She hired a former federal prosecutor to look into the handling of the Sandusky case. Her staff tried to get Kane to soften her language — why not a “review” instead of an “investigation”? Her tone was clearly antagonizing Frank Fina and fellow Sandusky prosecutor Joe McGettigan.
Her staffers say they got nowhere. Kane’s attitude was, I’m the attorney general. Do as I tell you. As if she had to prove she could be as hard and mean as the good old boys.
In February ’13, just as Kane was starting out, the state’s D.A. association invited Fina and McGettigan to speak about the Sandusky case at the grand Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. But two weeks before the talk, Fina got a call from the association’s president, who said that Kathleen Kane was pressuring him. There would be no talk about prosecutorial derring-do regarding Sandusky.
Fina demanded a hearing before the entire executive board of the association, which voted to reinstate the presentation. Kane and some of her lieutenants attended the talk, sitting up front. And then, just as it was beginning, the attorney general stood up and left.
Kane claims that her problem was simply with McGettigan speaking — at that point, he was still an employee in the A.G.’s office. (He’s now in private practice.) “We just wanted to make sure that because it was still under appeal, he wasn’t going to go out and say anything that would jeopardize the case,” she says. “That’s all.” McGettigan laughs when he hears that: “Who in their right mind would think Frank and I would say anything to jeopardize the conviction? It’s laughable on its face. She couldn’t be that dumb.”
Last year the D.A. association took the bold step of writing a public letter in defense of Frank Fina and the Sandusky investigation, essentially telling Kane to lay off. That’s how much influence Fina has with the state’s D.A.’s.
At the end of Kathleen Kane’s first year in office, when she was still riding high, an adviser said to her, “You know it won’t always go like this, don’t you?” The adviser would openly roll his eyes whenever the press threw out the possibility that Kane might soon run for senator, or governor. That made her angry. Why not? Why can’t I? Now he was warning her: Given the nature of politics, given how tough her job was, problems would come up. Big problems. You have to expect them.
Kathleen Kane said to him, “What are you talking about?”
IN MARCH OF LAST YEAR, the Inquirer ran very large pictures of Kathleen Kane and Frank Fina on page one, with a long article that asked a pointed question: Why had she taken a pass on prosecuting the sting case, the one that caught Philly-based state legislators on tape taking bribes from a would-be lobbyist? The implicit answer was that she was squeamish about prosecuting black legislators, or maybe was simply protecting them as fellow Democrats.
With that, everything would change, not only between Kane and Fina, but in the public perception of her.
Fina had sent the case to the feds — as he had announced to Kane and her staff at his exit meeting a year earlier — but they did nothing with it. Kane also took a look at the case, assigning a prosecutor in her office the task of listening to all 400 hours of tapes. She was underwhelmed. Later, she would say she passed on the case because of its poor conception and management, and because the General Assembly’s Black Caucus was “targeted,” while potential “illegal acts” by white members were ignored.
That certainly upped the ante, as she was essentially accusing Fina, as lead prosecutor of the case, of racism. And it still rankles Kane that Fina or one of his acolyte agents would share case files with the Inquirer to make her look like she’d protect politicians on the take.
“I don’t know if it was him who put the Ali matter in the Inquirer’s hands,” Kane told me that day in her Scranton office, meaning Fina. “I don’t know who it was.”
“I’m going to make the leap for you,” I told her. “It was him.”
“Okay,” Kane said.
She was silent for a moment. Then, very quietly, as if she was finally nailing something very important to her: “Was it him? Do you know that?”
When I told Kane that Fina had gone to the Inquirer, I believed that, but it’s really an open question. One school of thought has Fina so worried about the A.G.’s investigation of the Sandusky case that he tried to undermine Kane’s credibility by siccing the Inquirer on her. But Fina’s lawyer claims Fina besieged the Inquirer when he knew the piece was coming, trying to stop it because he was concerned about informant Ali’s safety. And Fina threatened the paper with a lawsuit if the article accused him of racism. So it seems that the paper’s source was likely somebody else in the A.G.’s office with access to the case files.
But Kane’s beef wasn’t just with whoever leaked case information. She thought the Inquirer had heaped dirt on her, and her staff set up a meeting with the paper’s editorial board so she could plead her case. Kane had a conference call a few nights before the meeting with a half dozen strategists, but one salient bit of intrigue didn’t come up: When she visited the Inquirer’s editorial board that Thursday, March 20th, she took powerful attorney Richard Sprague with her. And she didn’t say a word. He did all the talking.
In a picture that ran in the paper of Kathleen Kane peering down at tiny Dick Sprague as they sat before the Inquirer editors, she looks like she’s about to pat him on the head. Sprague, of course, is the lawyer who once won a multimillion-dollar libel suit against the Inquirer and still gets people quaking in fear wherever he shows up. That Kane brought him with her was perceived as an attempt at pure, unadulterated intimidation — the attorney general who railed against the good old boys plucking the oldest good old boy to do her dirty work. All the maneuver did was piss off the paper’s board and make her look like she should get on the next bus home to Scranton.
Where did that idea come from? Kane says she doesn’t remember.
When I ask her if she had it to do all over again — “Oh, God, no! No!” She wouldn’t bring Sprague in to the Inquirer like that.
Then the attorney general of Pennsylvania explains that she brought a lawyer to the meeting because “I’m allowed to make it fair. This is a process. Let’s all just be fair! That’s really not the way it works all the time. I didn’t understand the relationship and the history they all had. Had I known that before, I wouldn’t have done it. I also wouldn’t have done it if I saw it from their eyes. I had no idea what that looked like to them.”
So the attorney general had no clue about Richard Sprague’s history as a lawyer in this city …
Then I learn why Kane staffers get nervous whenever she keeps talking publicly: “One more thing on the Inquirer … I was in my office, I have these bookshelves in my office in Harrisburg that I despise, by the way, and I’ve been asking them to take them down for two straight years. … So I’m thinking, I hate these damn bookcases, they haven’t been taken down in two straight years, and there is this big book sitting there, I pull it out, it’s the history of the Associated Press, let me look under Right to Know, maybe there is something, let me learn to do it. And I looked at the history of how the government was constantly imposing gag orders and sealing orders just to keep the information from the press so the public wouldn’t get it, and I was like, I get it. I see what they see now.”
That’s a strange little speech, alarming in what she didn’t seem to understand, but also uncharacteristically open in how uneasy she felt. “I don’t really think she has ever felt comfortable in her own skin holding the job,” one ex-staffer says. “I mean, I think that comes out over and over and over.”
And now, with the fight against Frank Fina public, she was in way over her head. Indeed, Fina took the gloves off. First, Kane was investigating how he’d handled the biggest case of his career; now she was accusing him of incompetence and racism. Writing in the Inquirer, he challenged Kane to a public debate; she didn’t take him up on the offer. Seth Williams announced that he would take the sting case. Kane told him to go right ahead, then dawdled at sending the case file to Philadelphia before finally passing it on.
It had all gotten to a very dangerous place for Kane.
Seth Williams would move the case forward, charging six Philadelphia politicians, including four state reps, with taking bribes. And Claude Thomas, an agent in the sting case who’d moved with Frank Fina from the A.G.’s office to work for Seth Williams, filed suit against Kane personally in April, claiming she had defamed him by saying he’d been party to targeting black legislators. Thomas himself is black; so, of course, is Seth Williams.
Meanwhile, Ed Rendell was reminding her: You don’t have to crush your enemies. You win by doing your job, and getting reelected. And by the way, he told Kathleen Kane, “Send the Inquirer a better photograph.” He thought the one the paper ran made her look like Cruella de Vil.
KATHLEEN KANE DID HAVE a card in her pocket: During the investigation she’d authorized of the Sandusky case, office emails were combed through, and something strange emerged: pornography — lots of it. Porn had circulated among A.G. staff and outsiders; it had been going on for years and involved dozens of people — porn shared on office computers on state time. And one of those in the chain was Frank Fina.
Some of the porn that was shared around the office was pretty gnarly stuff. “One video was entitled NASCAR,” Kane tells me. “They were holding this woman, both of her legs, one arm, holding her up in the air, her legs were spread, a champagne bottle this big” — sitting on her office couch, Kane spreads her hands apart a good foot — “and they’re shaking it, and they shove it up inside her. It was just, come on — now, come on. And motivational, it was motivational, how to get your employees to work better. And these guys were supervisors. It was just … disgusting.”
When staff shared with Kane that Frank Fina was part of the porn chain, her reaction was sunnier: She smiled. Fina? Oh, how could he be that stupid? To give her something so … obvious. The porn could be quite useful to her. Though the legalities of making it public had to be vetted before she invited the press in for a look.
Meanwhile, Kane had another line of attack. She would play his game. She would expose a case that Fina should have pursued when he was in the A.G.’s office.
It involved Jerry Mondesire, who’d been head of the NAACP in Philadelphia; the case had now been cold for five years. Back in ’09, Fina and his team started investigating how money flowed in and out of certain state-funded nonprofits in Philadelphia; Mondesire had received money from several of them for suspect services. But given his stature, any possible case against him had to be rock-solid, and Fina’s team never unearthed evidence of wrongdoing.
So there it sat, a dormant file under Kane’s control. Kane says she authorized sharing a memo written last year about the case with the Daily News; secret grand jury information was also leaked to the DN, which is a crime. Frank Fina got wind of that when DN reporter Chris Brennan called him as he worked on the story. Fina reported the leak to Montgomery County judge William Carpenter, which was the beginning of Kane’s legal trouble. She now faces charges of perjury, abuse of office, obstruction and false swearing, based on testimony she gave about all this.
Kane maintains her innocence. She says she didn’t leak any grand jury testimony. Her dwindling allies raise another point: Leaks about investigations are ubiquitous and rarely prosecuted. Somebody leaked Ali’s sting case information to the Inquirer, after all, and there’s no talk of prosecuting whoever did that.
But Kane is the top law enforcement official in the state. And she’s in trouble as much over the alleged cover-up as the leak itself.
She denied having anything to do with the leak under oath and pinned the blame for it on Adrian King, who was then her top deputy. But King had warned his boss in a March email not to do what she accuses him of doing.
“I fail to see how we can legally give … access to any OAG [Office of Attorney General] criminal division file materials,” King wrote a week after the Inquirer article about the sting case appeared. He was emailing Kane after getting a call from Tom Sprague — Richard’s son — requesting information on the sting case and the Mondesire case; Sprague said the firm was investigating them.
Kane replied a day later, at 3:38 a.m.: “I am well aware of the limitations of disclosing criminal files. I have been in this business quite some time.” Which was a classic Kane response to advice she didn’t want to hear; she’d get her back up as the attorney general in a way that made her insecurity obvious.
In the presentment of the grand jury leak case against her, Adrian King cites another moment in late March that exposes the state of Kane’s decision-making:
“I walked into this [meeting about Mondesire] and quite frankly, to be dead honest, I am listening to this, and I think it is absurd … it just seems like a complete distraction. It seems to be paranoid. And I am also quickly clueing into the fact that the people that she has in her right hand that she appears to be taking advice from is her driver, and the person that she just installed as communications director has absolutely no experience, and they are literally sitting there just nodding their heads in agreement with everything that’s being said. And my reaction to that was this is nuts; I don’t want anything to do with it.”
Kane, however, would testify that King handled the leaking of grand jury testimony to the Daily News: “I can take care of it,” he told Kane, according to her testimony. But that email to Kane in March warning her about sharing case files suggests otherwise.
At any rate, that memo she says she did approve sending to the Daily News — a summary of the case written last year — raises the question of what Kane was up to, since it seems obvious she was trying to play tit-for-tat with Frank Fina.
Not so, Kane says. Why, then — why feed that memo to the media?
“The systemic, the problems, the pattern all along,” she says. “The Ali case sitting there for many, many months, then they said I dumped an ongoing investigation — nothing ongoing about it. The pornography, not really the porn — the Sandusky case. This was an ongoing pattern of nothing being done, and then blamed on someone else.”
I point out to the attorney general that both the Ali case and the Sandusky case feature Frank Fina front and center.
“That happens to be the case, yes, but even if it wasn’t, I happen to be a believer that we own our government, people need to know what is happening and what is not happening. … The only way I’m going to change it, the only way to hold government accountable … is to start shedding the light on it.”
So the best method of “shedding the light” is to leak investigatory information to a newspaper? The attorney general talks herself into some strange places. An early adviser who’s still in touch with Kane shakes his head now at how she couldn’t stop herself. You had the porn, Kathleen. Meaning she didn’t need Mondesire; she could have nailed Fina without it. But Kane can’t say a word about Frank Fina’s porn involvement, because he pushed for a court order in the grand jury leak probe prohibiting her from seeking retaliation against anyone testifying in the case. And he got it.
Frank Fina remains a step ahead of Kathleen Kane.
Not surprisingly, someone else isn’t happy with Kane’s behavior. “I’ve never seen an attorney general behave in such a reckless manner,” Jerry Mondesire says. “I’m collateral damage, that’s what I am, with my name bandied about in the papers. When this is all over, I will bring a lawsuit against her.”
In September, Kane rolled out the names of eight men involved in the email porn chain, on the heels of an aggressive editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot-News about her tenure lacking the transparency she’d campaigned on. Staffers say the editorial enraged her, though she claims she doesn’t read stories about her. Most of the eight — like Rick Sheetz, who led the criminal division in the A.G.’s office, and Randy Feathers, who’d moved from the A.G.’s office to the state Board of Probation and Parole under Corbett — are close to Frank Fina or had been critical of Kane, or both, and their naming had the appearance and feel not of truth-telling but of utter vindictiveness. Kane claims she released the names based on right-to-know requests, yet her office had just been informed by an administrative law judge she hired to vet the process that she didn’t have to honor those requests. At least, not in the way she did.
Then she went on CNN to talk about the pornography, an opportunity for a Not on my watch stance that turned into a subsequent apology for alluding to child porn that didn’t exist in the emails. Likewise, a report had finally come out, in June, on her investigation of the handling of the Sandusky case; Fina and his team emerged largely unscathed. But Kane then came up with two children who were supposedly molested by Sandusky after the investigation began — the point being that the case’s slow pace had spelled their doom. When she was pressed on that, though, Kane had to admit that she had it wrong. At this point, as the mistakes continue, as Kane keeps getting into deeper trouble, it feels as if she’s piling on herself.
She’s now fighting a second legal battle. Kane is accused of contempt of court for seeking retribution against chief deputy attorney general James Barker, who testified in the Mondesire leak probe. Kane claims Barker was fired in April due to a staff reorganization and that he had been responsible for grand jury leaks unrelated to the Mondesire case. But Barker was by all accounts a highly effective prosecutor, and seemed stunned by his dismissal. Contempt of court, of course, is serious business — Kane could get thrown in jail after the legal niceties play out. With this move, too, Kane shows utter arrogance and — there’s no other word for it — stupidity. Even if she wanted to fire Barker for legitimate reasons, it should have been clear to her how that firing would be widely viewed.
In late April, the Inquirer reported that Kane had recently promoted Jonathan Duecker to be her chief of staff despite knowing that he had been accused by two female employees of unwanted sexual advances. Duecker has remained in the new post — overseeing all personnel — even after Kane’s HR department recommended his firing.
You begin to wonder where, and when, it will end — both the damage inflicted, and her reign.
One thing is certain: Her story has taken a dark turn. Even Kane’s home life has been hit; she filed for divorce from her husband, Chris, back in December. (Their two sons are now 14 and 12.) Yet she’s hard to feel sorry for, given how much time and energy she puts into orchestrating her own demise. And for some time now, the A.G.’s office has had a hunkered-down mentality. Walter Cohen, a veteran Harrisburg lawyer who once took a turn as acting attorney general, says other lawyers who interact with the office sense a place with no direction or supervision, with deputy attorney generals making their own decisions. And there are recent stories of outright paranoia, with employees putting tape over drawers to check whether their desks are being searched, and worrying that their email is being monitored for signs of disloyalty.
Kathleen Kane is certainly a long way from operating with the utter confidence and flair that propelled her three years ago, when she decided to jump the system right into the attorney general’s office, with the possibility, it seemed, of moving on up to … who knows the limit?
But in coming from Scranton with little experience, in never having been elected to anything before, in trying to change the culture of an office that for 32 years had been run a certain way by hard-core Republicans, Kathleen Kane confronted too much. “She just hasn’t been able to handle the pressure,” Ed Rendell sums up, in the crisp way he sometimes cuts to the chase. “Her emotions got the best of her.” Which means her worst side emerged. Kane’s fight with Frank Fina became so personal because he had worked his way to the top of the state prosecutorial world that she ascended to the easy way, by election. She wasn’t ready for it. She wasn’t seasoned. Her arrogance and fear pushed her to a strange place, as her subordinates watched in amazement. At one point, Kane ordered Bruce Beemer, her highest-ranking assistant, to tell the Supreme Court or the grand jury judge to shut down the investigation into the Mondesire leak. “My heart stopped,” Beemer testified. His boss had gone off the rails; this obsession with Fina was all that mattered. When Kathleen Kane was squeezed, when she got pressured, when Frank Fina was winning, she snapped.
What Kane was trying to do, jumping into the political fray at a high level, is hard. If that seems obvious, consider how we tend to judge our political fallen: on what they got wrong, rather than on what they had to confront. State politics is a tough place to cut your teeth, and if, in the end, Kane lost her way, the object lesson really is ours to learn: What were we doing in the first place, so easily falling for the story that her Scranton friend Ruth Lenahan believed would go right on playing out — that beautiful breath of fresh air that Kathleen Kane would be — when she took the state by storm? The story has become, the longer it rolls on, one in desperate need of an end.
Originally published as “Kane’s Collapse” in the June 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Tyron Ali was operating as an undercover informant for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office in 2009. Ali’s undercover work for the A.G.’s office began in 2010.