Pennsylvania Attorney General Exposed 1000s of Pornographic, Racist Government Emails But Now Faces Her Own Scandal
By: Byron Pitts, Michelle Kessel, and Geoff Martz
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane is used to going up against criminals, not her own colleagues, but after she helped expose an email scandal win the state government, her career has been in jeopardy.
In 2014, Kane’s office released close to 400 pages of emails between state government employees, including some high-ranking state officials, exchanged on the state’s email server that were full of racism, sexism and pornography. The scandal was dubbed Porngate, and Kane said it involved a number of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
“I couldn’t believe there was violence involved, and I couldn’t believe this wasn’t just some Playboy photos ... 398 pages, much of it hard-core porn,” Kane told “Nightline.”
“The hard-core pornography shared on state computers, on state time, between state actors … That is not boys being boys,” she continued. “It's assault upon our criminal justice system and quite honestly it’s unacceptable.”
Embattled Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane sat down for an interview.
For veteran public defender Mark Bookman, these emails represented something more troubling about Pennsylvania’s justice system.
“The pornography is what grabbed the public, but … the real issue here is the misogyny and the racism of those emails,” Bookman said. “If I’m an accused and if I’m looking up and I know a judge has sent these kind of misogynistic and racist emails … and then I look at the prosecutor who not only is close friends with the judge but exchanging these emails and thinks the same way, I don’t think I’m getting a fair shake in that courtroom.”
One of the state’s Supreme Court justices, Michael Eakin, resigned. His lawyer told “Nightline” Eakin never sent or received pornography.
Another justice, Seamus McCarthy, retired in 2014 amid the scandal. He could not be reached for comment.
To measure the scope of the scandal, Kane appointed former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler to lead an independent investigation.
“Our mission … is to look for inappropriate emails, pornographic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, racist emails that exist … and then identify who committed violations and who did not,” Gansler said.
His researchers have spent months rifling through 5 million emails, searching for keywords that might flag inappropriate content. One was President Barack Obama’s name, to detect racist emails.
“You look at this and say, ‘You've got to be kidding me,’” Gansler said. “Who made the decision to think this is an appropriate thing to send?”
This wasn’t the battle Kane expected to be fighting. Growing up in a blue collar household in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Kane went to law school and became a rising star in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party, earning former President Bill Clinton’s endorsement while running to be the state’s attorney general. She won in the 2012 election, becoming the state’s first woman and first Democrat elected to the position.
When she exposed the state email scandal, Kane claims that, what she refers to as Pennsylvania’s political good old boys club, was furious and came after her.
Amid calls for her resignation from Gov. Tom Wolf, the Montgomery County prosecutor charged Kane in August 2015 with perjury, obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy, accusing her of leaking grand jury information unrelated to this scandal to embarrass a political rival and then lying about it under oath — all of which Kane denies.
The state Supreme Court has suspended her law license over these charges, and she could face jail time when her criminal trial begins this August.
But her critics, including Marc Bookman, say Kane brought this on herself and say she’s a victim not of the good old boys club but of blind ambition and a vindictive streak.
“I don’t defend our attorney general for her behavior, I think it’s atrocious in every way,” Bookman said.
When a former prosecutor from her office named Frank Fina allegedly leaked a potentially damaging fact about Kane to the press, she retaliated, according to a court complaint, saying in an email to her media strategist, “This is war.”
In a defamation lawsuit against Kane, plaintiffs claim she got revenge by leaking grand jury information about Fina to a newspaper. Kane later admitted to sharing information, but said it was not illegal.
She said the accusations are “unfair,” claiming she met Fina once in a staff meeting “for about five minutes” but otherwise, she said, “I wouldn’t know Frank Fina if I fell over him.”
Fina declined a request for comment from “Nightline.” He is part of a group that has sued Kane for selectively releasing the emails. According to the complaint, Kane used “intimidation, attempted blackmail and vindictive retaliation,” for the purposes of “silencing her critics.”
Kane said it’s revenge from those good old boys in the email scandal.
“I took on this job knowing that I would be taking on the good old boys, but I had no idea the positions of power that they were in,” Kane said. “I underestimated that and I was unprepared for it.
“They’ve done everything possible to me,” she continued. “There is three or four impeachment resolutions … a couple grand juries … two arrests … the only thing that hasn’t been done to me and not being glib when I say that, is out and out assassination.”
Again, her critics disagree and argue many of her wounds were self-inflicted.
“Whether there’s a good old boys network or not … her own kind of vindictiveness appears to have brought her down,” Bookman said. “The attorney general has made a million missteps.”
Among Kane’s missteps, according to Bookman, was releasing the emails of her supposed rivals in the 2014 exposure while initially minimizing the dozens sent and received by her own twin sister, state prosecutor Ellen Granahan. Kane eventually released those emails, including one she received herself.
This February, Kane announced she would not seek re-election, saying she’s going to focus on her two teenage sons, Christopher and Zack.
“I explain to them that there comes a certain cost sometimes with doing the right thing, and it is not always easy,” Kane said.
Despite the troubles she has faced, Kane still puts in full days at the office and recently made headlines for uncovering a church sexual abuse scandal.
But the thing that still drives her, she said, is the email scandal. The interim report on that investigation is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“We do have recommendations in there,” Gansler said. “Hopefully, just the very nature of this investigation, the fact that this investigation takes place, will create a massive chilling effect for those who might send inappropriate emails to other people.”
And Kane has a few more months left in office to define her legacy.
“You can’t give a closing argument now because the story isn’t over yet,” she said. “There is a long way to go here.”
The article is reproduced in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.