Pennsylvania top prosecutor says charges part of plan to conceal graphic emails

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Portraying herself as a victim, Pennsylvania's attorney general said Wednesday that criminal charges threatening to end her career were part of a "grand plan" to conceal pornographic and racially insensitive emails circulated among judges and state prosecutors.

"I am innocent of any wrongdoing," Kathleen Kane said in her first public comments on the case. "I neither conspired with anyone nor did I ask or direct anyone to do anything improper or unlawful."

She didn't address the specific allegations leveled against her last week, saying she couldn't on the advice of counsel. But she challenged a judge to make public the "filthy email chain" that led to last year's porn scandal, promising to call a second news conference and answer every question if the judge met her terms.

A suburban Philadelphia district attorney charged Kane with leaking grand jury information to a newspaper reporter in an attempt to embarrass a former prosecutor she believed made her look bad, and then lying about her actions under oath.

Kane, 49, hasn't entered a plea. She faces up to seven years in prison on the most serious charge, perjury.

Reading a prepared statement, the attorney general described the leak investigation and criminal charges as a "stealth political weapon" to oust her from office and block her from challenging a judge's order. She said the order bars the release of a collection of undisclosed pornographic, racially and religiously offensive emails sent on state computers.

"We heard even before the charges were announced against me that this grand plan was in the works," she said.

She said the campaign to discredit her began immediately after her office uncovered pornographic and explicit videos, images and jokes in hundreds of emails while examining how state prosecutors under her predecessors handled the child sex abuse case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

"Some involved in this filthy email chain have tried desperately to ensure that these emails, and more importantly their attachment to it, never see the light of day," Kane said.

Kane said the email scandal, which surfaced last summer, resulted in six firings, 23 reprimands and two high-profile resignations, including a state Supreme Court judge.

She said Wednesday that more people are involved than previously disclosed and called on the judge supervising the leak investigation grand jury, William Carpenter, to authorize the release of the additional emails.

She also called on Carpenter to release documents related to the protective order she said he signed to prevent the release of those emails and to give her immunity from potential charges of witness tampering that could come with their disclosure.

Carpenter's secretary said he hadn't read Kane's statement and wouldn't comment Wednesday.

Risa Vetri Ferman, the Montgomery County prosecutor who brought the charges against Kane, said in a statement: "The District Attorney's Office does not respond to comments made by criminal defendants."

Kane won office in 2012, the first woman and first Democrat to be elected attorney general. She also is the highest-ranking woman in Pennsylvania state government.

The attorney general had portrayed herself as a political target for taking on a corrupt, old-boy law enforcement network and exposing state employees who exchanged pornographic emails.

In her statement Wednesday, she said she was taking a different tack.

"My defense will not be that I am the victim of some old-boys' network. It will be that I broke no laws of the Commonwealth. Period," she said, though she went on at length to repeat some of those same allegations.

A growing number of Democratic officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf, have called on her to step down. Her critics worry the charges have damaged the office's credibility and her legal battle will distract her from the responsibilities of her position.

Kane, in response, cited 135 child predator arrests, 645 drug arrests and a $2.4 million settlement with an electric supplier that had overcharged customers in the nine months since a grand jury first recommended charges against her.

"If these numbers are a distraction, then maybe more public-service employees need to be distracted," Kane said.

A citizen's complaint filed with the state Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board could set in motion a suspension of Kane's law license that could force her out of office. Kane asked the disciplinary board to halt any action until Carpenter authorizes her to release the emails.

Prosecutors have also accused Kane of instructing some of her staff to monitor employee emails as the grand jury was wrapping up its investigation of her.

Patrick Reese, a former police chief who is Kane's driver and head of her security, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a contempt charge involving allegations he violated a judge's order by accessing emails in a state computer system to keep tabs on the grand jury investigation.