ABC Spotlights Conviction of Pennsylvania's 'Rising Star' Democrat

ABC became the first Big Three network to cover the felony conviction of the Democratic attorney general of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, on the early Wednesday edition of Nightline. Byron Pitts spotlighted the downfall of the "rising star in Pennsylvania's Democratic Party," who went from being endorsed by Bill Clinton and being elected the first woman and Democratic attorney general in the commonwealth to being a "convicted criminal." ABC's morning and evening newscasts still haven't covered the Kane story, nor have their competitors at CBS and NBC. [video below]

Dan Harris teased Pitts's nine-minute report by touting the "spectacular fall — Kathleen Kane was Pennsylvania's first elected female attorney general — crusading against corruption; uncovering thousands of pornographic, racist, and sexist e-mails, leading to the downfall of high-ranking state officials, until she came under investigation herself." Harris introduced the segment by underlining the "stunning development tonight involving a rising star in the Democratic Party."

The correspondent spent the first portion of his report on the "Porn-gate" scandal that Kane's office uncovered, where top judicial and law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania sent multiple e-mails containing hardcore pornography and racist language/imagery over official state e-mail accounts. Pitts soon pointed out that "these aren't the battles Kathleen Kane grew up expecting to fight — a blue-collar kid from Scranton, P.A." He asked the now-convicted politician in an interview from earlier in 2016, "Is it fair to call your upbringing hardscrabble?"

Pitts continued that Kane "studied hard, went to law school, and became a rising star in Pennsylvania's Democratic Party — earning Bill Clinton's endorsement while running for attorney general....She won — becoming not just the state's first Democrat elected attorney general, but the first woman." He added that "when she exposed the e-mails, Kane claims Pennsylvania's political good old boys club, as she calls it, was furious, and out for blood — hers."

Tell the Truth 2016

The ABC journalist then devoted the last part of the segment on the criminal case against the Democrat. He pressed Kane on the controversy:

PITTS: Your law license has been suspended.

KANE: Yes.

PITTS: It's kind of hard to be attorney general if — if you're not a lawyer, right?

KANE: No — not at all. We've been through this—

PITTS: When was the last time there was an attorney general in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who wasn't a lawyer?

KANE: When's the last time there was a woman and a Democrat in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who didn't have to go through what I'm going through?

(...)

PITTS: Did you break the law?

KANE: No—

PITTS: Have you broken the law?

KANE: Of course, not—

PITTS: You've been indicted. What does that say?

KANE: That doesn't say anything. As they say, you can indict a ham sandwich.

Near the end of the segment, Pitts stated, "Call her a casualty of a corrupt system or culpable for her own demise, Kathleen Kane is now a rising star no longer — the state's top prosecutor today a convicted criminal....In a trial that began last week, Kane was found guilty last night on all nine criminal charges....Kathleen Kane faces jail time, and is expected to be sentenced within 90 days. Her lawyers say she will appeal."

The full transcript of Byron Pitts's report from ABC's Nightline on August 17, 2016:

DAN HARRIS: A stunning development tonight involving a rising star in the Democratic Party. Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania's first elected female attorney general, was taking on what she called the 'old boys club' — exposing racist and sexist e-mails. But then, she herself became the focus of a criminal investigation; and now, the verdict is in.

Here is my Nightline co-anchor, Byron Pitts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: I want you guys to be safe — all right? Stay with your partner.

BYRON PITTS (voice-over): Pennsylvania's attorney general, Kathleen Kane, at the peak of her power — when running away from danger was never her M.O.

KATHLEEN KANE, (D), PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We can get out, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (off-camera): I wouldn't — I mean, but you're the boss.

KANE: We're getting out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay! (Kane laughs)

PITTS: On this day, she's in Philadelphia with the gun violence task force to find a fugitive accused of attempted murder. But Kane says the real danger she never saw coming — not from criminals, but her colleagues — a discovery that has shaken her entire state, putting her own career in jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST 1 (from ABC6 Philadelphia newscast): Porn-gate scandal—

PITTS: 398 pages, much of it hardcore porn—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE JOURNALIST 2: Names have now been named; X-rated material exposed—

PITTS: A trove of e-mails her office discovered and made public — full of racism, sexism, and pornography.

PITSS (on-camera): The first time you saw these e-mails, what was your immediate reaction?

KANE: Oh, my God!

PITTS (voice-over): The scandal has been dubbed 'Porn-gate.' But perhaps, most shocking of all: who sent and received those e-mails — some of the state's highest-ranking officials.

KANE: A number of judges, a number of prosecutors and law enforcement—

PITTS: All on the state's e-mail server.

KANE: I couldn't believe there was violence involved, and I couldn't believe — I mean, this wasn't just some Playboy photos.

MARK BOOKMAN, DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC CENTER FOR CAPITAL REPRESENTATION: The pornography was what grabbed the public, but the real issue here is the misogyny and the racism.

PITTS: For veteran public defender Mark Bookman, these e-mails represent something more troubling about Pennsylvania's justice system

BOOKMAN: If I'm an accused, and I'm looking up and I know a judge has sent these kinds of misogynistic and racist e-mails; and then, I look at the prosecutor, who not only is close friends with the — with the judge, but exchanging these e-mails and thinks the same way, I don't think I'm getting a fair shake in that courtroom.

PITTS: Among those who reportedly resigned because of the scandal: two of the state's seven Supreme Court justices — including Michael Eakin. This lawyer tells Nightline Eakin 'never sent or received pornography.' Former Justice Seamus McCaffery, who retired in 2014 amid the scandal, could not be reached for comment.

To measure the scope of the scandal, Attorney General Kane appointed former Maryland A.G. Doug Gansler to lead an independent investigation.

DOUG GANSLER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MARYLAND: What we're seeing in these e-mails are e-mails that would be offensive to any reasonable-minded person.

PITTS: Researchers spent months riffling through five million e-mails, searching terms like the President's name to detect racist e-mails. (clip of researcher saying something unintelligible) Even the first lady wasn't off limits, with this supposed depiction of Michelle Obama's high school reunion.

GANSLER: You look at this and say, you've got to be kidding me. Who made the decision to think that this is an appropriate thing to send?

PITTS: These aren't the battles Kathleen Kane grew up expecting to fight — a blue-collar kid from Scranton, P.A.

PITTS (on-camera): Is it fair to call your upbringing hardscrabble?

KANE: I think so—

PITTS: Modest?

KANE: Modest, yes — I wouldn't change it—

PITTS: So you learned how to fight?

KANE: Well, I had two brothers, too, and a twin sister. So, sure, I did.

PITTS (voice-over): She studied hard, went to law school, and became a rising star in Pennsylvania's Democratic Party — earning Bill Clinton's endorsement while running for attorney general.

KANE: I knew I could run for office, and I wasn't about to ask anyone's permission.

PITTS: She won — becoming not just the state's first Democrat elected attorney general, but the first woman.

KANE: My philosophy is, I am who I am.

PITTS: And when she exposed the e-mails, Kane claims Pennsylvania's political good old boys club, as she calls it, was furious, and out for blood — hers.

KANE: The hardcore pornography shared on state computers, on state time, between state actors — that is not boys being boys. It's an assault upon our criminal justice system; and, quite honestly, it's unacceptable.

PITTS: So what happened to the self-styled maverick who exposed the scandal?

RISA VETRI FERMAN, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY (from press conference): We are here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

PITTS: Amid calls for her resignation—

GOV. TOM WOLF, (D), PENNSYLVANIA (from press conference): I'm calling on her to step aside — to step down as attorney general.

PITTS: The state Supreme Court suspended her law license. When we spoke to her this spring, she was facing the prospect of jail time.

PITTS (on-camera): Your law license has been suspended.

KANE: Yes.

PITTS: It's kind of hard to be attorney general if — if you're not a lawyer, right?

KANE: No — not at all. We've been through this—

PITTS: When was the last time there was an attorney general in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who wasn't a lawyer?

KANE: When's the last time there was a woman and a Democrat in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who didn't have to go through what I'm going through?

PITTS (voice-over): She was charged in a different case with perjury and criminal conspiracy, for allegedly leaking grand jury information to embarrass a political rival — and then, lying about it under oath.

PITTS (on-camera): Did you break the law?

KANE: No—

PITTS: Have you broken the law?

KANE: Of course, not—

PITTS: You've been indicted. What does that say?

KANE: That doesn't say anything. As they say, you can indict a ham sandwich.

PITTS (voice-over): But her critics — including Mark Bookman — say she brought it on herself.

BOOKMAN: I don't defend our attorney general for her behavior. I think it's atrocious in every way.

PITTS: When a former prosecutor from her office, named Frank Fina, allegedly leaked a potentially-damaging fact about her to the press, she retaliated, according to a court complaint — saying in an e-mail to her media strategist, 'This is war.'

PITTS (on-camera): By all accounts, there's bad blood between you and Frank Fina — fair, unfair?

KANE: I believe it's unfair, and for this reason: I wouldn't know Frank Fina if I fell over him. I have no—

PITTS: Never met him?

KANE: Once, at a staff meeting, for about five minutes.

PITTS (voice-over) Fina declined Nightline's request for comment.

PITTS (on-camera): Some would say that you're admitting to boxing outside your weight class. You weren't up for the challenge. You didn't know how the game was played.

KANE: I don't think anybody could know how this game was played. And they've done everything possible to me. There's three or four impeachment resolutions, a couple grand juries, two arrests — there's the suspension of my law license. The only thing that hasn't been done of me — and I'm not being glib when I say that — is out and out assassination.

PITTS (voice-over): Here again, her critics disagree. Many of her wounds, they argue, were self-inflicted.

BOOKMAN: Whether there's a good old boys network or not, her own, kind of, vindictiveness appears to have brought her down.

PITTS (on-camera): There are those people who stand with the attorney general, and there are those who stand with her opponents. Where do you stand?

BOOKMAN: I don't stand with either of them. I don't understand how anybody could stand on either side of the — of the issue.

PITTS: Because?

BOOKMAN: Well, I mean, the attorney general has made a million missteps.

PITTS (voice-over): Among Kane's missteps, according to Bookman: releasing the e-mails of her supposed rivals, while initially minimizing the dozens sent and received by her own sister, state prosecutor Ellen Granahan. Kane eventually released those e-mails — including one she received herself.

KANE (from press conference): The decision today I am comfortable with–

PITTS: In February, the attorney general announced she would not seek reelection.

KANE (from press conference): While I love Pennsylvania, I love my sons first.

PITTS: From darling of the Democratic Party to doting mom.

KANE: You have practice tomorrow?

PITTS: Her boys, Christopher and Zach, have softened the fall.

PITTS (on-camera): How do you explain this to Christopher and Zach?

KANE: I explain to them that there comes a certain cost, sometimes, with doing the right thing; and it is not always easy.

PITTS (voice-over): Critics and supporters do agree Kane is a fighter. Despite her own troubles, in March, she was still putting in full days — making major headlines for uncovering an alleged church sexual abuse scandal.

KANE (from press conference): This abuse lasted for four decades.

PITTS: Call her a casualty of a corrupt system or culpable for her own demise, Kathleen Kane is now a rising star no longer — the state's top prosecutor today a convicted criminal.

KEVIN STEELE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY (from press conference): The attorney general has been convicted of — of crimes involving abuse of power and lying under oath.

PITTS: In a trial that began last week, Kane was found guilty last night on all nine criminal charges.

STEELE: It seemed that we had somebody who felt that — that she was above the law.

GERALD SHARGEL, ATTORNEY FOR KATHLEEN KANE (from press conference): The verdict, conviction on all counts, was a crushing blow. I'm not going to say otherwise.

PITTS: Kane, who did not testify, reportedly showed little emotion as the verdict was read. After four days of testimony from the prosecution, the defense called no witnesses.

SHARGEL: It's tragic — you know, beyond any measure. And — and it's something that she has to deal with. She's a very strong woman, and — and she will deal with this.

PITTS: That strong woman is also a realist. Despite her defiant defense of her actions to us last spring, Kane announced her resignation today — effective at the close of business tomorrow — saying, in a statement, 'I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania, and I wish them health and safety in all their days.'

Kathleen Kane faces jail time, and is expected to be sentenced within 90 days. Her lawyers say she will appeal. For Nightline, I'm Byron Pitts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center