Pennsylvanians have already suffered the indignity of learning that judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials have used state computer systems to exchange pornographic, racist and misogynistic emails.
Now, state taxpayers will pick up the bill for a team of special prosecutors hired to sort out the sordid details of PornGate.
Standing on the stage at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Tuesday announced she has tapped former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler as a special deputy attorney general. He’ll lead a team of special prosecutors that will parse tens of thousands of inappropriate emails and determine whether ethical or criminal violations occurred.
“They demonstrate a complete lack of respect, tolerance for others and impartiality for the public they are sworn to protect,” Kane said of the illicit emails. “This behavior violates the constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States, to which these men are sworn to protect.”
The process could result in the most thorough accounting of PornGate so far, but it comes at a cost.
Speaking at the televised press conference, Gansler said he will be paid the per diem rate of Kane’s $158,000 annual salary. That equates to about $433 a day. The arrangement follows the template set in the state’s now-defunct independent counsel law.
The Attorney General’s Office will also sign a contract with Gansler’s Washington, D.C.-based law firm, BuckleySandler, for support services for the investigation. The law firm’s rate will come at a “deep discount” typical for agreements involving attorneys general, Gansler said.
Full details of the arrangement were not immediately available Tuesday. Jeffrey Johnson, an assistant press secretary to Kane, said the contract was still being executed.
Gansler expects the investigation will cost less than $2 million, the cap set forth in expired independent counsel law.
“Our anticipation is to get it done relatively quickly and expeditiously and as low-cost as possible,” he said.
Kane introduced Gansler after displaying a sample of the illicit emails found on attorney general servers. They included photos of topless women, photos of African Americans that included racist jokes and a picture of a woman with a black eye that made light of domestic violence.
Kane has sporadically released the emails during her rocky tenure, often during times when she’s facing bad publicity. She announced the decision to hire a team of special prosecutors last week, on the same day a state Senate committee recommended the full chamber proceed with a process that could end in Kane’s ouster.
Senators are exploring that possibility after the state Supreme Court suspended Kane’s law license after she was charged with obstruction and perjury in connection to accusations she leaked grand jury material and then lied, while under oath, about her actions.
Those controversies have cast a cloud over Kane, who repeatedly has tried to shift the spotlight to the pornographic emails, which she has described as the symptom of a good-old-boys network out to thwart her. The scandal has ensnared state Supreme Court justices, prominent prosecutors and even a former cabinet secretary.
While one government watchdog said PornGate has been mishandled, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be investigated. Eric Epstein, coordinator of Rock the Capital, said a special prosecutor should have been hired upon the initial discovery of the emails.
“At this particular point, Kathleen Kane may not have the authority or the standing to appoint a special investigator,” he said. “However, we think a special investigation is not only necessary, but long overdue to sort out this mess.”
Kane and Gansler disputed the notion she could not appoint him because of her suspended law license. Still, Kane predicted some opponents might try to stonewall the investigation with “nonsense” the appointment represented the practice of law.
“And to the few who challenge it, including some members of my own staff, I pose a simple, three-prong question,” Kane said. “Are you a white male? Are you or one of your buddies in this email network? Are you trying to get my job without the benefit of having to run for it and being chosen by the people of Pennsylvania?”
Kane still has her job for now, and she’s vowed to fight any attempt to usurp her. Handing off the PornGate investigation to Gansler raises the possibility Kane will take others down with her.
Though he is not licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, Gansler said his team will have subpoena authority and grand jury power. He anticipates eventually releasing most of the inappropriate emails.
As of Tuesday, Gansler said he hadn’t seen any of the emails. He’ll start following the dirty digital trail soon, which could get even uglier by the end of the investigation.
“The scope is very broad,” Gansler said, “because we don’t know where it’s going to take us.”