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Kane impeachment investigation sparks debate over cost

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Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane discusses a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese during a news conference at the Blair County Convention Center on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

HARRISBURG — A state House panel Tuesday approved issuing subpoenas to obtain documents and testimony as part of an investigation to determine if Attorney General Kathleen Kane should be impeached.

But there’s a debate in the Judiciary Committee about how much to spend on the investigation since Kane’s tenure ends in early January.

Kane, a Democrat, will go on trial in August in Montgomery County on criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. A House Judiciary subcommittee is examining claims of misconduct against her.

The House authorized the impeachment investigation with a 172-12 vote in February.

“The public deserves the transparency to know what happened,” said Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County, chairman of the subcommittee.

Kane, 50, of Scranton ran the office amid turmoil as she faced a statewide grand jury probe, and then a Montgomery County District Attorney’s probe that resulted in criminal charges.

Stephens contended the probe might be hampered if the Judiciary Committee’s leading Democrat does not approve the work and costs for an outside law firm, estimated at $60,000, that include seeking a protective order to prevent Kane employees who cooperate from being fired.

Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Vandergrift, said he supports the investigation but he is not sure that outside counsel is needed. Obtaining a protective order for all witnesses would cost an estimated $35,000, Stephens said.

Petrarca said staff lawyers could prepare the document and, if necessary, have an outside firm review them. But he thinks the next step should be seeking grand jury materials from Kane’s case.

There have been numerous newspaper reports about chaos, paranoia and spying on employees. Kane’s bodyguard and driver Patrick Reese was convicted of indirect criminal contempt in December for snooping on employees to keep Kane informed of the grand jury investigation. She has kept him on the payroll at a cost of more than $100,000 a year.

Stephens said they have reviewed numerous wrongful termination suits filed against Kane, whose law license was suspended by the Supreme Court last fall.

Kane’s Solicitor General Bruce Castor has questioned why the committee is moving now, saying he’s not aware of any impeachment proceeding being brought before someone is convicted of a crime.

“The Attorney General is not running again, and she has delegated her legal decision making authority. What possible reason apart from vindictiveness could there be for this move?” he said.

Stephens fired back that Castor “has a pretty good gig going as a part-time acting attorney general at $150,000” and he’s in no hurry for it to end.

“I certainly have no ax to grind,” Stephens said.

He stressed there’s been no decision to impeach. That happens only if the subcommittee, full House Judiciary Committee and then full House approve.

Kane “will be given every opportunity to come before the subcommittee should she choose to do so,” he said. If the House votes to impeach her, the Senate would hold a trial on the articles of impeachment

He gave no indication who may be subpoenaed.

No opposition to the subpoenas surfaced from Democrats at the subcommittee meeting.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at [email protected].

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