NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania’s attorney general was charged Thursday with leaking secret grand jury information to strike back at her critics, then lying about it under oath, in a case that could spell the downfall of the state’s highest-ranking female politician.
Kathleen Kane leaked the material to a political operative to pass it on to the media “in hopes of embarrassing and harming former state prosecutors she believed, without evidence, made her look bad,” Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said.
Kane, the first woman elected attorney general in Pennsylvania, was charged with perjury, obstruction, conspiracy and other offenses. The 49-year-old Democrat is expected to surrender within days. Her lawyer said she would plead not guilty to the charges.
“No one is above the law, not even the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Pennsylvania,” Ferman said. She called it “a sad day for the citizens of Pennsylvania and a sad day for all of us in law enforcement.”
Kane has portrayed herself as a victim of payback for taking on a corrupt, old-boy law enforcement network and exposing state employees for exchanging pornographic emails. She vowed to stay in office and fight the charges.
“A resignation would be an admission of guilt,” she said, “and I’m not guilty.”
Her lawyer said in an emailed news release that she did nothing illegal.
“Attorney General Kane conspired with no one,” said Gerald L. Shargel. “At no time did she believe that she was asking or directing anyone to do anything improper or unlawful. In explaining her conduct to the grand jury she uttered no lie.”
The charges represent a new low in Kane’s tumultuous three years in office, a period that has seen an exodus of top aides, fumbled corruption cases and feuds with former prosecutors who served under her Republican predecessors.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called on the former rising star to resign, echoing newspaper editorial pages across the state in recent months.
Kane had come under fire from some former prosecutors for declining to pursue charges against several lawmakers accused of taking illegal gifts.
The charges against her allege she struck back by leaking information to the Philadelphia Daily News last year that made it look as if prosecutors botched a 2009 probe into whether a Philadelphia NAACP official misused state job-training grants. The official was never charged.
The NAACP probe was headed by Frank Fina, who was a top prosecutor before Kane got elected. In court papers, Kane was accused of spilling the information to get even with Fina.
“I will not allow them to discredit me,” she wrote in a 2014 email to her media strategist. “This is war.”
Kane is the second state attorney general in the U.S. to face criminal charges this week. She is also the second Pennsylvania attorney general charged in the last 20 years.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was charged on Monday with securities fraud. Ernest Preate resigned as Pennsylvania attorney general in 1995 and served a year in prison after pleading guilty to fraud related to a campaign contribution.
Kane’s driver and confidant, Patrick Reese, was charged Thursday with indirect criminal contempt for allegedly snooping in the office computers to keep Kane informed about the grand jury investigating the leak. A lawyer for Reese, a former police chief near Scranton, had no comment.
Ferman said authorities are still investigating allegations Kane fired a prosecutor whose testimony was used to build the leak case against her.
Kane has acknowledged giving information to the Daily News but denied it was covered by secrecy laws. She also contended the prosecutor was fired over his job performance, not in revenge.
In September, she exposed eight former employees of her office as having received or sent pornography on their state computers. Those named included several former top supervisors. Kane fired four officials, and a state Supreme Court justice also resigned in the scandal.
Relying heavily on her trucking magnate husband’s wealth, the Scranton native campaigned as a disrupter of the status quo.
Kane initially earned praise after taking office and challenging the state ban on gay marriage and the three years it took to prosecute former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges.
But some Republican lawmakers accused her of playing politics, and her star began to fall in 2014, especially after the grand jury leaks from her office.
“I am not sure how the top law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania can continue to perform her duties while she is defending herself against these serious charges,” the governor said of his fellow Democrat.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)