The decision of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to drop the investigation and potential prosecution of Philadelphia Democrats who were recorded accepting cash, money orders, or jewelry certainly seems suspicious. According to news reports, investigators collected over 400 hours of audio and video of five Democrats, including four state lawmakers, before Kane, also a Democrat, secretly killed the investigation last fall. When confronted with this troubling story by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kane cited racism and mismanagement in the investigation, but the detailed descriptions of the recordings certainly seem to indicate that the payments were made.
Kane’s reaction to reports about her decision went from bad to worse. At first, she complained that white men were attacking her:
In the statement, Kane provided only one quote, dismissing those who questioned her decisions as “nothing more than the Good Ol’ Boys club playing political games to discredit me in order to fulfill their own selfish and improper agenda.”
The statement cited Kane’s pursuit of political-corruption cases, including the pay-to-play scandal involving Democrats tied to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the corruption charges brought last week against Democratic State Sen. LeAnna Washington.
That was a pretty astounding escalation. It is not out of line to wonder why a state’s attorney general would drop an investigation which is said to have obtained detailed recordings of lawmakers taking bribes. The decision to dismiss the investigation under seal combined with Kane’s accusation that it was tainted by racism certainly is newsworthy and gives rise to an inference that, although we may not know exactly what went on here, something unusual did. That’s ordinarily a reason to give something more examination, not less.
But Kane, apparently frustrated by continuing scrutiny of her decision, has now escalated further, hiring counsel and suggesting that if the Inquirer continues to pursue the story, she would start suing people!
During the meeting, Sprague [Kane’s new lawyer] suggested that The Inquirer may have been used by the sources of its stories – “wittingly or unwittingly” as a “weapon” to attack Kane to defend themselves from potential charges of wrongdoing in the management of the probe.
“I intend to look at the investigation from the very beginning to the conclusion of it, and in terms of what has been published, by this paper and others, to take appropriate action on behalf of the attorney general against those responsible for the defamatory and the false publications that have been made,” Sprague said.
It sounds like Kane or her new lawyer thinks the folks providing detailed information about the investigation into bribe-taking Democrats are the very investigators she claims were impermissibly motivated by race in the investigation.
The decision to lawyer up and take “appropriate action” against either the leakers or the papers goes far beyond the bounds of a reasonable response. This is indisputably a newsworthy story. The public deserves to know what happened with this investigation and why it happened. Kane’s acceleration from “it was racism” to “it’s the Good Ol’ Boys” to “I will start suing people” is despicable in any public servant, but even more so from the state’s top prosecutor.
The Inquirer’s editor, William K. Marimow, gets this exactly right:
“Our lead reporters, Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy, have interviewed many people with in-depth knowledge of the investigation, including members of Attorney General Kane’s staff, in order to ensure that the stories are accurate, thorough, and fair,” Marimow said. “These stories are the product of months of diligent and dogged reporting – not a leak from a person with a political agenda.”
He added, “In my opinion, this is precisely the kind of issue that requires public scrutiny, specifically the conduct of public officials who accepted cash or gifts from an undercover agent and the quality of a three-year investigation launched and ended by a state law enforcement agency.”
Bravo, Inquirer. That’s journalism.