Pennsylvania attorney general resigns a day after conviction

Marc Levy
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's attorney general announced Tuesday that she was resigning amid pressure from the governor and lawmakers a day after she was convicted of abusing the powers of the state's top law enforcement office to smear a rival and lying under oath to cover it up.

Kathleen Kane's office issued a short statement saying she would resign at the end of the workday Wednesday.

"I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I wish them health and safety in all their days," Kane said.

On Monday night, a Montgomery County jury convicted Kane of all nine counts against her, including perjury, obstruction and official oppression. Jail time is possible. After hearing days of testimony about petty feuds, political intrigue and "cloak-and-dagger" machinations, Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy ordered Kane to surrender her passport and threatened to jail her if she retaliated against the once-trusted aides who testified against her.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who first called for Kane to resign when she was charged a year ago, said in a statement shortly after the verdict that Kane needed "to do what is right."

"As I have made clear, I do not believe Kathleen Kane should be Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I believed this when she was charged, and today, after conviction, there should be no question that she should resign immediately," Wolf said.

Kane's lawyers vowed to appeal the case. Kane, a Democrat, already said she wasn't running for a second term in office. But the state Senate's Republican majority leaders threatened a vote to order her removal from office if she didn't step aside. A prior vote in February narrowly failed as all but one of Kane's fellow Democrats stood by her.

Kane's conviction nearly completes a spectacular fall for the state's highest-ranking female politician — a former county prosecutor who soared to victory three years ago as an outsider who promised to disrupt the status quo.

The two years of turmoil has left Kane isolated in Pennsylvania's political, legal and law enforcement community. The state Supreme Court suspended her law license, and she has drained campaign funds to pay legal bills.

Kane, 50, was the first woman and first Democrat elected to the office, winning a landslide election in 2012.

She ran as an outsider who promised to disrupt the status quo, financed by campaign cash from her then-husband's family trucking fortune. On the campaign trail, she promised to investigate why it took her Republican predecessors three years to charge former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with child sex abuse and whether politics played a role. She earned early praise from Democrats for refusing to defend a legal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban.

Kane's honeymoon as attorney general ended in March 2014, when The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that she had shut down an undercover sting that had caught a Philadelphia judge and five state lawmakers taking cash payments or gifts.

Kane's criticism of the Sandusky case had triggered a bitter feud with the investigators who handled the case, and prosecutors say she suspected they had leaked the unflattering story to the Inquirer.

She ordered aides to leak secret investigative information to the Philadelphia Daily News in an effort to show that her perceived enemies had bungled a 2009 probe into a Philadelphia NAACP official, Montgomery County prosecutors said.

"This is war," she wrote in a 2014 email to a political strategist.

A special appointee concluded that the Sandusky case had not been dragged out for political reasons. But the inquiry unearthed a trove of interoffice emails containing sexually explicit images and crude jokes about women and minorities.

As authorities began building the leak case against her, Kane ordered the release of email chains, saying the misconduct allegations against her were concocted by a corrupt old-boy network inside law enforcement to stop her from exposing their raunchy exchanges. The email scandal ultimately precipitated the resignations of several high-profile state officials, including two state Supreme Court justices.

But the judge would not allow Kane's lawyers to raise the email scandal in court as the motive to prosecute her.