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Pennsylvania Democrats walk out of Kane impeachment hearing

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 9:46 a.m.
Brad Bumsted | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, (left) at an impeachment hearing for Attorney General Kathleen Kane in Harrrisburg on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane “must have had her fingers crossed” when she took the oath of office on Jan. 15, 2013, a witness told a House committee on Tuesday.

Six months later, she “openly defied her duty” as the state's chief law enforcement officer by refusing to defend Pennsylvania's 1996 law banning gay marriage, arguing it is unconstitutional, testified Michael Bekesha, an attorney with Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan legal watchdog group based in Washington.

“In plain English, the attorney general cannot decide which laws she wants to uphold and defend,” Bekesha told the House State Government Committee.

Bekesha was the lead-off witness at the Republican-controlled committee hearing considering a resolution to impeach Kane, the first woman and Democrat to be elected attorney general.

“Today's hearing was nothing more than an attempt by the Commonwealth's most anti-equality legislator to discredit Attorney General Kane and curry favor with the most extreme elements of his party,” the Kane campaign said in a statement Tuesday night.

Democrats on the panel did not hear Bekesha or three other witnesses. They boycotted the hearing, walking out when the GOP chairman asked House security to remove a lawmaker who repeatedly suggested adjourning the hearing.

“Have your kangaroo court, pal,” state Rep. Mike O'Brien, D-Philadelphia, said as guards approached him. He left on his own.

Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, continued with the hearing to examine what Metcalfe views as Kane's “misbehavior in office.” He did not invite Kane to testify but said he'd “welcome it” if the committee decides to vote on the matter. He intends to talk with other House members first.

Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, the leading Democrat on the panel, said the hearing was about policy differences, not wrongdoing.

Kane has accused Metcalfe of “political gamesmanship” and using the resolution to garner news coverage.

Committee members examined the promotion of Kane's twin sister, Ellen Granahan, who received a 19 percent raise, and Kane's decision not to prosecute four Philadelphia Democratic lawmakers who took $16,500 cash in a sting investigation under former attorneys general.

The ethics commission found no violation of law when Kane's office promoted Granahan, who worked for previous attorneys general, but said lack of documentation on criteria for her raise “created a perception that the promotion of your sister was not free of your influence.”

Metcalfe released the letter addressed to Kane from John Bolger, the commission chairman.

Kane's “brazen unwillingness” to pursue bribery allegations sent a message that “criminal behavior” touching on elections will be tolerated, said J. Christian Adams, who serves on the policy board of the American Civil Rights Union.

Adams, who grew up in Hempfield, said Kane “invoked the specter of race” when condemning the sting investigation by her predecessors. She claimed the investigation was “racially tainted” because four Democratic lawmakers who took cash from an undercover informant were black.

“It is the obligation of the attorney general to ignore the race, religion or partisan affiliation of the wrongdoers in deciding whether to enforce the law,” Adams said.

The attorney general should not “give a pass to criminal wrongdoing” because of race, he said.

Kane cited reasons aside from race in her decision to dismiss the case, including lack of adequate supervision and what she claimed was a sweetheart deal for the informant. Yet she signed off on the cooperation agreement to dismiss fraud charges against the informant that was set in motion by former Chief Deputy Frank Fina.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, for whom Fina now works, is reviewing the case to determine whether to file charges. The lawmakers — Reps. Ron Waters, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Louise Bishop — have declined to comment.

When Democrats walked out of the hearing, Metcalfe accused them of “dereliction of duty.” A vote to adjourn the House committee meeting was defeated 11-10 along party lines, and O'Brien continued with a parliamentary maneuver to push for adjournment.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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