How 400 Pages of Porny Emails Upended Pennsylvania Politics
The long, weird downfall of a woman who promised to take on the "good old boys" of Pennsylvania.
Photo by the Associated Press
Kathleen Kane, the first female attorney general of Pennsylvania, resigned Tuesday after being convicted of nine crimes, including criminal conspiracy and two counts of perjury—felonies that could earn Kane a prison sentence. Her conviction and resignation stem from a byzantine scandal that included a leaked collection of emails to and from Pennsylvania judges and prosecutors, running the gamut of nastiness, from sexist goof-around emails, to bananas-in-bodily-orifices porn emails.
But they weren't her emails. In fact, the irony of the whole Kane case is that it seems to stem from her efforts to combat a more stereotypical brand of rotten public official: the back-slapping, Blagojević-type, which apparently pervaded Pennsylvania state politics when she began her political crusade. For better or worse, that crusade made an impact, and it ended a lot of careers, including her own.
Here's how it all happened:
Clearing out the "old boys" was central to Kane's 2012 campaign
Kane campaigning in 2012
According to Philadelphia magazine, Kane had learned that Pennsylvania's capital was full of sexism long before she sought elected office because her twin sister was a state prosecutor. When Kane ran for attorney general in 2012, it was under the promise that she would be an "independent voice" who was "not a part of the good old boy Harrisburg network," and someone Pennsylvanians could finally "trust to uncover the truth."
At the start of 2013, a few months after her election, she seemed to make good on that promise by launching an investigation into the state's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case. Sandusky, you'll recall, was the assistant football coach under Joe Paterno, once a god among Pennsylvanians, who died shortly after his long career ended in disgrace. Special prosecutors under Kane looked into any possible wrongdoing by the office of Governor Tom Corbett with regard to the gap between the rape of children by Sandusky and his eventual prosecution.
But the investigation didn't reveal anything damning and actually ended up putting Kane on the defensive—she was forced to backpedal away from an unsubstantiated claim about Sandusky. Then, in 2014, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story questioning her decision not to prosecute lawmakers for bribery. The lawmakers were black, and Kane felt that racial bias compromised the case against the defendants.
From that point on, despite positioning herself as a crusader against corruption, Kane stayed on the defensive in one way or another until her resignation.
She found an arch nemesis named Frank Fina
In the midst of heavy criticism of her work, Kane hired a lawyer and briefly looked into suing the Inquirer for libel over its story on the aforementioned bribery case. The move indirectly brought about her fiercest rivalry: A Philadelphia prosecutor named Frank Fina had been a deputy attorney general during the bribery investigation that Kane didn't end up pursuing, as well as in the Sandusky investigation, which made him one of Kane's primary targets.
He tried to turn the tables in a scathing op-ed in the Patriot-News in March of 2014, in which he took her to task for not pursuing the bribery prosecution. In the piece, he challenged her to an open debate, and wrote that unlike Kane who sought legal help over her libel issues, he had not hired an attorney. "I am an attorney," he wrote (emphasis added) in what amounts to a pretty sick burn from one lawyer to another. At one point, Kane wrote in an email about her critics, "This is war."
In apparent retaliation, Kane's next move, in June 2014, proved to be her undoing: In an apparent effort to level the playing field, and suggest that other prosectors—(cough) Frank Fina (cough)—failed to act on evidence, she leaked a grand jury memo to the Philadelphia Daily News.
The memo revealed practices that sort of made Fina look like he had dragged his feet in the 2009 investigation of an NAACP leader's "questionable expenses," but it essentially proved nothing. Kane later admitted to leaking the information but said it was legal. Another grand jury was formed to investigate the leak of the initial grand jury's information, and its findings—that she leaked the memo and tried to cover it up—ultimately led to her prosecution.
Kane tried to unleash the dirty emails
But at some point in early 2014, according to a long report on Kane by Esquire, a Kane staffer noticed something about many of the official emails to and from Pennsylvania's prosecutors between 2008 and 2012: They included 400 pages worth of misogyny and porn—much of it emailed to colleagues by none other than Frank Fina. "Porngate," as it grew to be called, became one of the centerpieces of Kane's tabloid legacy. It implicated many of Pennsylvania's highest-ranking lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.
While working for the Pennsylvania government in those years, Fina apparently loved "Demotivators"—those fake motivational posters that were kinda funny in 1998 but then hit the internet and became a crappy meme. Fina liked the ones with porn in them. For instance, one said "WILLINGNESS" and then had a photo of woman giving a blowjob to guy dressed as an office worker. Then under that it said, "Bend over backwards to do an exceptional job." Get it?
In August 2014, Kane would have known about Fina's proclivities, and she attempted to publicize the emails, but her effort was blocked by an anonymous judge. Still, the scandal attracted publicity to the existence of the emails and indirectly resulted in the retirement of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, the resignation of the sexily named Pennsylvania parole board member Randy Feathers, and some kind of disciplinary action against 8 percent of Kane's employees.
But the emails didn't save Kane from her indictment
Kane, under indictment in 2015, calls for the emails to be released.
In January 2015, the grand jury released its findings and recommended that Kane be charged for leaking the memo to the Daily News. About eight months later, she was indicted, not just for the leak itself, but also for perjuring herself when questioned about the leak. She had testified to the jury investigating her that the information wasn't leaked to retaliate against Fina, and that she hadn't known about the leaks on a certain date. According to the jury that convicted her on Monday, those were lies under oath.
At a press conference (video above), Kane called for the release of the Porngate emails. Kane said the emails needed to be public, "not as part of some vendetta, but to tell the whole story, the story that is critical to my defense against these charges." She also said once again that members of Pennsylvania's Political Establishment were a "boys club."
So on August 26, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the emails. Officials, some of whom have already resigned, had been exchanging jack-off material like secretary porn, porn featuring bananas in vaginas, and Rule 34 photoshop jobs of Sarah Palin. Also included in the info dump were cracks about boobs tacked onto important emails, and racist memes that somehow made it all the way from someone's shithead uncle to the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.
The emails were all printed out for some reason, and they were available to be viewed only in a big binder at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court building. But hey, they were public.
Both rivals are now jobless and one might go to jail Montgomery County district attorney Kevin Steele responds to the verdict Monday.
Resignations kept rolling in. In March of this year, another Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice resigned, but it wasn't until June that Kane finally got the scalp she prized the most: Frank Fina's. After months of confusion over how he could possibly have stuck around, he tendered his resignation on May 9 and officially left office on June 1. Asked about his involvement in bringing about Kane's prosecution during his final days, Fina told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "It's all self-inflicted. I have not been a participant in her paranoia."
Kane's trial in Montgomery County Court commenced on August 9, and her conviction took about a week. The prosecutor on the case, Michelle Henry, portrayed Kane as driven by vengeance. "Revenge is best served cold—her words," Henry said of Kane, according to theNew York Times
Outside the Montgomery County courthouse, just after Kane was convicted on August 15, county district attorney Kevin Steele looked like he had seen a ghost as he addressed the media. Having just theoretically won a case, he called it a "sad day for the commonwealth," and added, "We hope that this puts some closure on things."
Kane's sentencing is scheduled for October 24.
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