By Paul Martino

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KDKA/AP) –  The state’s top prosecutor was charged Thursday with leaking secret grand jury information and lying about her actions under oath.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaked information to a political operative to pass to the news media “in hopes of embarrassing and harming former state prosecutors she believed, without evidence, made her look bad,” Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Kane, the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general in Pennsylvania, was charged with perjury, obstruction and abuse of office.

“No one is above the law, not even the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Pennsylvania,” Ferman said. “This investigation and the charges make me profoundly sad.”

“This is a sad day for the citizens of Pennsylvania and a sad day for all of us in law enforcement,” she said. “When someone entrusted with upholding the law violates that oath, we are all victims.”

Kane’s driver, Patrick Reese of Dunmore, was also charged with indirect criminal contempt in the case. Ferman said he gained access to the files of the grand jury that was investigating his boss.

Kane issued the following statement about the charges Thursday morning:

“I am very disappointed the district attorney has made the decision to pursue this case. I have maintained my innocence from the day these allegations surfaced and I continue to do so today.

“I intend to defend myself vigorously against these charges. I look forward to the opportunity to present my case in a public courtroom and move beyond the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has defined the process to this point.

“Meanwhile, I remain committed to leading the Office of Attorney General and doing the job the citizens of this Commonwealth elected me to do. A resignation would be an admission of guilt and I’m not guilty.

“I assure everyone the Office of Attorney General will continue to fulfill its mission to protect and serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.” 

A grand jury recommended charges in December in connection with allegations Kane unlawfully leaked information from a 2009 investigation in what witnesses said was an attempt to embarrass critics.

Kane is the second state attorney general to face criminal charges this week. She’s also the second Pennsylvania attorney general charged in the last 20 years.

An indictment unsealed Monday charged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton with securities fraud. Ernest Preate resigned as Pennsylvania’s attorney general in 1995 and served a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud related to a campaign contribution.

Criminal charges mark a new low in Kane’s tumultuous three-year tenure, further weakening her shaky hold on an office that has seen an exodus of top aides, fumbled corruption cases, feuds with former prosecutors and misstatements she later had to retract.

The investigation of Kane centered on allegations that a June 2014 Philadelphia Daily News article about a former Philadelphia NAACP official’s alleged misuse of state job-training grants contained confidential information from a grand jury case.

A statewide grand jury investigating the allegations recommended Kane be charged with criminal contempt, perjury, obstruction, false swearing and official oppression.

The grand jury judge, William Carpenter, referred the matter to the county district attorney’s office in January, along with a later allegation that she fired a staff prosecutor whose testimony helped build the leak case against her.

The 49-year-old Kane has acknowledged giving information to the Daily News but denied it was bound by secrecy laws and said she hasn’t broken any laws. She also contended the prosecutor was fired for job-related performance, not revenge.

Kane has vowed to run for office again in 2016. She has accused her critics and investigators of trying to undermine her because she had dared to take on a corrupt, old-boy law enforcement network. Newspaper editorial boards across the state have called for her to resign.

Relying heavily on her trucking magnate husband’s wealth, the Scranton native campaigned as a disrupter of the status quo and pledged to investigate whether politics played a role in the three years it took to investigate and charge former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky with child sex abuse crimes.

At first, Democrats lauded the former Lackawanna County prosecutor as a rising political star. They cheered her for refusing to defend Pennsylvania’s law banning recognition of gay marriage and rejecting then-Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s contract with a private firm to run the Pennsylvania Lottery. Some Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, accused her of playing politics and raised talk of impeachment.

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(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)