HARRISBURG — Emails shared among top Wolf administration officials show growing concern over the legal challenges facing Attorney General Kathleen Kane, including how to fill her position if that should arise and an aide’s comment that her office is “an unholy mess.”
The emails, obtained by a Pittsburgh lawyer under the open records law, show discussion among staffers on April 1 in which Deputy General Counsel Gregory Dunlop cites law for appointing a replacement and states that the first deputy would head the Attorney General’s Office temporarily.
“Who is the first deputy?” asked Katie McGinty, then Wolf’s chief of staff.
“Bruce Beemer,” replied Geoffrey Moulton, a deputy general counsel who completed a special report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse investigation for Kane last year. McGinty asked for a copy of his “bio.”
Beemer was a longtime Allegheny County assistant district attorney before former Attorney General Linda Kelly, a Republican, hired him. Kane, the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general, took office in 2013. She is under investigation for leaking secret documents to a Philadelphia newspaper to embarrass a political foe. A statewide grand jury recommended charging her criminally.
Asked about the emails, Wolf’s director of communications, Mark Nicastre, said the governor “is continuing to let the legal process play out. Obviously, we have watched the situation closely and staff has researched contingencies.” Nicastre characterized the discussion about potentially replacing Kane as “due diligence.”
Kane maintains her innocence and has said she would not step down if charged.
“It’s easy to reach conclusions based solely on media reports,” said her spokesman Chuck Ardo. “The conclusion some seem to have reached is premature. She’s entitled to a presumption of innocence.” He said she still intends to fight if charged.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman will decide whether to prosecute. She began investigating the grand jury’s findings in April. Ferman also is investigating Kane’s firing of a deputy, James Barker, who was under court protection as a grand jury witness.
The Wolf administration emails, which the Tribune-Review obtained, were requested under the Right to Know Law by attorney Robert Salera, a former campaign official for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, whom Wolf defeated in November.
The emails paint a picture of behind-the-scenes concern about Kane but a consistent message that Wolf wants to allow the legal process to play out.
Many emails include news clips about Kane for top administration officials. A Trib story on April 16 about Erik Anderson resigning his post as Kane’s legal counsel for labor and employment issues prompted the “unholy mess” remark.
Anderson became the 14th aide to step down since Kane took office as her legal troubles mounted last year.
Andrea Mead, press secretary to first lady Frances Wolf, wrote “Beyond crazy” to Wolf’s deputy press secretary J.J. Abbott.
Abbott, who previously worked for Kane, fired back that Anderson was “one of the last people I wanted to get out. What an unholy mess.”
Wolf’s email address does not appear anywhere in those the Trib reviewed. He does have a state email account, Nicastre said.
There was the equivalent of a full-page redaction in the discussion in Dunlop’s email about how the governor proceeds to fill a vacancy.
The governor nominates a successor who needs Senate confirmation by a two-thirds vote. By tradition, that person would agree not to run in order to be confirmed.
Kane has said she will run for re-election in 2016.
The emails include a transcript of Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Angela Couloumbis’ interview with Wolf in April. In that interview, the governor says he has not had any conversation with Kane about her legal difficulties. He said he thought Kane was up to being the state’s prosecutor.
“I think we ought to let the judicial process play out,” Wolf said.
In an interview with Radio PA in April, Wolf was asked whether Kane should resign.
“That’s not my decision to make,” he answered. “I’m concerned like every other Pennsylvanian.”
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].