Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is charged with counts of securities fraud
CNN's Jeffery Toobin: "They run into the same problem that other politicians do"
On Thursday, a rising star in the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania was charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy after allegedly leaking secret documents to a reporter to harm her predecessor, a criminal complaint says.
Just three days earlier, another top law enforcement official, this time a Republican in Texas, was charged with counts of securities fraud; he’s accused of soliciting investors in a hometown company without disclosing he was profiting.
These types of cases – unconnected except for their timing and elements of political retribution – are not uncommon, legal analysts say.
“Attorneys general are politicians, and they run into the same problem that other politicians do,” CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
“These two cases are common cases of white collar crime – abuse of power and fraud – and it just so happens that these two defendants are attorneys general,” Toobin added.
Both defendants maintain their innocence, but the allegations and timing raise similar suspicions of political motives behind the charges and what happens when the top law official tasked with upholding the law allegedly goes rogue.
The case in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania State Attorney General Kathleen Kane was charged Thursday with obstruction and conspiracy after she allegedly leaked confidential information about grand jury deliberations to the media and then attempted to cover it up.
The back story – allegations riddled with political motives and retribution – is primarily rooted in two newspaper articles.
It began in March 2014, the criminal complaint says, when The Philadelphia Inquirer published a story called “Sources: Kathleen Kane shut down probe of Philly Democrats.”
That investigation at the center of that article was into individuals “who had been caught in an undercover sting involving politicians accepting bribes.” The investigation was inherited by Kane from former Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank G. Fina before he left office, the criminal complaint said.
Kane “was angry about the article,” the complaint alleges, and that same day wrote an email to her media strategist, saying “I will not allow them to discredit me or our office,” and ending with, “This is war.”
Her media strategist replied, “make war with Fina but NOT to make war with the Inquirer.”
The criminal complaint alleges that Kane then orchestrated the leaking of secret 2009 grand jury documents conducted under Fina and a senior deputy attorney general that looked into the misuse of grant money by an NAACP boss.
The NAACP boss was never charged with any crimes pertaining to that investigation, the complaint says.
Accused of scheming to leak confidential information
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, a Republican who filed the charges against Kane, said that Kane had “devised a scheme to secretly leak confidential information and secret grand jury materials” for retribution against Fina. Montgomery County is just north of Philadelphia.
Ferman said Kane did this “in the hopes of embarrassing and harming former state prosecutors whom she believed, without evidence, had made her look bad.”
The other charges brought by Ferman allege that Kane then lied under oath to a grand jury about knowledge of the 2009 documents and her involvement in leaking them to journalists, among other things, to help cover up the crime.
Kane, elected in 2012 and talked about by Pennsylvania Democrats as a top political contender in the state, vehemently denies the allegations.
“I intend to defend myself vigorously against these charges,” she said in a statement. “A resignation would be an admission of guilt and I’m not guilty.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called on her to step down Thursday, calling the charges “troubling.”
“She is entitled to her day in court. She is entitled to due process under our system of government and law, and she will have time to defend herself and I think she needs to do that,” Wolf said.
“But in the meantime, I’m calling on her to step aside, step down as attorney general, because I don’t think she can do what she has to do as the top law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania while she’s facing these serious charges,” he added.
“The chief power an attorney general has is to bring cases and the risk is that they abuse that power for political gain and that is where they get in to trouble,” Toobin said.
The case in Texas
A grand jury in Texas indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, alleging he profited from soliciting investors in a local company without properly registering.
Paxton surrendered to authorities in Collin County, just north of Dallas, on Monday morning on two charges of securities fraud in excess of $100,0000 and a third felony charge for allegedly advising or representing investors without properly registering, according to booking records.
The case against Paxton, an attorney and former state senator, began last year when he admitted violating state securities law by soliciting investment clients for the firm of his friend and campaign donor. Though Paxton was referring clients to his associate, he did not register with the state of Texas. He later paid a $1,000 fine.
“Attorney General Ken Paxton will plead not guilty to these accusations, and he will demand a trial by jury. He is looking forward to the opportunity to tell his side of the story in the courtroom,” Paxton’s attorney, Joe Kendall, said in a statement Monday.
The indictment of Paxton, elected to the attorney general’s post in November, comes almost a year after a Travis County grand jury brought charges against Rick Perry.
The former Texas governor, now seeking the 2016 Republican nomination, is still facing one felony charge of abuse of power; a second charge was dropped.
Paxton, a Republican, has also at times shared an alliance with the other Texan running for president, Ted Cruz. The Republican senator appeared in a television advertisement during Paxton’s primary battle in 2014, though Cruz did not endorse him.
Paxton has not publicly commented on the charges, but his defenders – and Perry’s – have portrayed pending indictments as politically motivated.
“Some of the outrageous events surrounding this sloppy process certainly do not typify the level of quality that Texans expect from our judicial system,” said Aaron Whitehead, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.
“Ken Paxton, like all Americans, deserves to have his say in a court of law, rather than be judged in a court of public opinion that is presided over by liberal interest groups.”