The Pennsylvania Senate voted Wednesday against removing state Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office. The vote allows Kane to continue leading the Office of Attorney General as she defends herself against criminal charges and an impeachment investigation that the state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to initiate.
The vote was 29-19 in favor of removal, falling three votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to send the matter to Gov. Tom Wolf for a final decision. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, was the lone Republican to vote against Kane’s removal, and Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, was the only Democrat to vote in favor.
Kane said in a statement that, “Today is a good day for all those who share my desire to restore confidence in our judges and prosecutors and integrity to our system of justice.” She also vowed to continue the email investigation for which she appointed Douglas Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general, as a special deputy prosecutor.
As the Senate conducted nearly three hours of floor debate, the House voted 170-12 to launch an investigation to determine whether or not to bring articles of impeachment against Kane. Several Democrats who spoke on the Senate floor said impeachment is the appropriate method to pursue if Kane’s removal is desired, and she herself has said the same.
During the Senate debate, several Democrats opposed to removal emphasized that voting against Kane would take away the public’s ability to elect an attorney general.
Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks, a member of the special bipartisan committee that held four hearings to investigate Kane’s circumstances, said removing her would be “a great outrage against the right of voters.”
Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, said removing Kane would “disenfranchise the many voters who voted for her, all to satisfy a political agenda.”
Teplitz, the lone Democrat who voted for removal, said he did so “reluctantly.”
“While I did not choose to get on this train, I feel compelled … not to pull the emergency brake,” he said.
Republican senators expressed concern for the OAG’s ability to function while Kane’s license is temporarily suspended. The state Supreme Court suspended her license Sept. 21, 2015, after she was charged with perjury and related crimes in August.
The special Senate committee whose efforts led to Wednesday’s vote was convened in late October to determine whether Kane can fulfill the duties of the office with a suspended license.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said she was disappointed to see “a tenure begun with such optimism and promise so dramatically deteriorated to this vote today.”
But, she said, “Kathleen Kane’s troubles are of her own making.”
Kane’s criminal charges allege she leaked grand-jury information in an attempt to embarrass a political rival and then perjured herself.
Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, chair of the special committee, said Kane’s removal is necessary because she is “legally incapacitated.”
The resolution that led to the vote was referred back to committee, meaning it could be considered again at a later date, but a change in Kane’s circumstances would likely be required to raise another vote.
With one hurdle cleared, Kane can turn her attention to several more that stand before her.
She has until Feb. 16 to file a petition to be included on the ballot if she chooses to seek re-election. Her criminal trial is set to begin Aug. 8 in Montgomery County. She also faces five civil suits, the looming possibility of further attention from the Disciplinary Board and, now, an impeachment investigation that is expected to take months and could touch on “any misbehavior in office,” per the Pennsylvania Constitution.
“This would be too much for the most seasoned and stable of politicians,” political strategist Larry Ceisler said.
Ceisler said the Senate’s vote was “stunning,” particularly considering Wolf’s comments asking Kane to step down “basically gave [Democrats] the green light to remove her.”
Ceisler said he sensed the Democrats didn’t want to “pile on.”
Although the Senate was focused on a narrow question—whether Kane can fulfill her duties—an impeachment investigation could subject Kane to a far more thorough review that would not have any such limits on its focus. Considering the heightened drama surrounding Kane, such a process could branch off in any number of directions, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
“It opens the door as wide as you can open it, whereas the Senate was peeking through a window,” Madonna said.
An impeachment investigation could complicate matters for Kane as she attempts to defend herself against criminal charges, ethics attorney Ellen Brotman of Griesing Law said.
In a reply brief in Barker v. Kane, a federal retaliation suit filed by the OAG’s former appeals unit chief, Kane argued this week for a stay, in large part to avoid Fifth Amendment concerns raised by her criminal prosecution. The potential for overlap between three investigations—criminal, impeachment and possibly disciplinary—could create significant challenges for Kane in defending herself, Brotman said.
“Logistically and practically, how many fronts can she fight a battle on?” Brotman said.
The criminal prosecution is “the arena where these issues will be best brought forward and defended,” Brotman said.
Despite Kane’s situation, OAG spokesman Chuck Ardo said she is still planning to run for re-election and is hopeful she’ll have enough signatures to get on the ballot. Waging a political campaign in the midst of such a torrent of challenges might be too much for Kane to handle, Ceisler said.
“I don’t think she should be running for re-election,” he said. “She is so crippled.”
Ben Seal can be contacted at 215-557-2368 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BSealTLI. •