Seriously, What the Hell Happened With Kathleen Kane?
Kathleen Kane will officially be Pennsylvania’s former state attorney general by the end of today, bringing her bizarre tenure to a merciful end. But I can’t help but think about something she said earlier this year, when there still appeared to at least be a microscopic chance that she’d end up beating those perjury and conspiracy charges.
I asked her in January why she didn’t step down when she was indicted last summer, or when her law license was suspended a short while later. “I knew that if I resigned, this whole debacle, this whole network, none of this would have come out,” she said. “And I think it’s a good thing I didn’t resign, because maybe the path I’m on is to show the problem, and maybe someone can fix it.”
“This whole debacle,” of course, was Porngate, the statewide email scandal that revealed prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and other players in our judicial system often got their kicks by sending each other pornographic, misogynistic and racist material. (What, you don’t see the humor in a domestic violence joke? Allow Michael Eakin to explain.)
Here’s the problem: Kane was never on the path that she thought she was.
Look back a few years, when Kane’s tenure as attorney general was still in its honeymoon phase. The media was enthralled by her rags-to-riches personal story, and certain corners of the political establishment were positively giddy over her seemingly limitless potential.
And Kane offered a glimpse of the righteous streak that would become even more pronounced when the skies darkened and the headlines turned critical down the road. “The plan is to get things done. I’m not paralyzed by fear of whether the voters are going to not vote for me in four years. I don’t have that same mentality that some people in Harrisburg have. I’m able to make a decision,” Kane told Philadelphia magazine in 2013.
She was brand new to elected office, but already an expert on what made her better than other politicians. But then that’s part of what won her so many voters in the first place, the idea that she represented something different, something new — a breath of fresh air in a political world that had long ago turned stale.
A year later, it all started to go to hell. Kane declared “war” on Frank Fina because she believed he was behind an Inquirer story that embarrassed her. That was all it took; just one alleged provocation from a guy who left the A.G.’s Office almost as soon as Kane moved in. This was not a case of Bloods vs. Crips, Capulets vs. Montagues, or even Fumo vs. Dougherty.
Kane deserves credit for exposing the outrageous images and jokes that prosecutors and judges were sharing, often on state time and state computers. She was right; there really was a good ol’ boys network. But she often misleadingly conflated the Porngate controversy with her indictment for leaking grand jury records to strike back at Fina.
They were two separate sagas, really, with the latter one fueled entirely by Kane’s desire to smite anybody who crossed her. Somehow, that became part of the attorney general’s job description.
The righteousness took on a fatalistic edge as the outlook for Kane worsened — state legislators tried to remove her from office, and her plan to run for a second term had to be abandoned once it was clear that even her vocal supporters like Ed Rendell had taken stock of the situation and moved on. Yet she insisted that she wouldn’t leave, because … well, she had no reason to.
“I wake up every day knowing that I’m right. I’m right. If I thought I was wrong, if I thought I did something wrong, I would never put anyone through this,” she told me in January. In case you still weren’t clear about where Kane saw herself in all of this, she broke it down in terms that a Star Wars fan could instantly recognize: “I have a lot of faith that good conquers evil.”
Kathleen Kane convinced everyone that she was different, that she could make the tough decisions that other pols couldn’t, because she was following a moral compass that most people in government lacked. And after a few utterly insane years, it’s led us here.
In a few hours, Kane will hand the A.G.’s Office over to Bruce Castor, the onetime Montgomery County district attorney best known for his complicated history with Bill Cosby, and for utterly losing his mind on a reporter who made the mistake of knocking on his door.
Things can only go up from here. Right?
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