The first volley of fake-name email smears this past fall gave us a clue of what kind of nastiness we’re in for with the 2017 Lieutenant Governor’s race.
An email from someone purporting to be “Martha McDaniel,” using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, made the rounds this past September. This email suggested GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) had been having a long-running affair with a campaign staffer. At the time, we investigated and found no one involved in Virginia or Stafford Republican politics named Martha McDaniel, and no records of any correspondence or activism involving that email address. We also spoke to Reeves and to his principal rival for that office, Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier). Reeves denied the claim and indicated he was serious about chasing it down. Vogel, in all apparent sincerity, disclaimed any involvement with any anonymous email campaigns. We thought that was the end of it, and the story appeared to die.
And so it did…right up until Reeves’ lawyers obtained responses to subpoenas in a defamation case arising from the emails. These responses point to the email address being associated with Alex Vogel, Sen. Vogel’s husband. The Washington Post‘s Laura Vozzella blows it wide open:
After hearing about the message from several recipients, Reeves said he tried to track down a Martha McDaniel but could not find anyone by that name in Stafford, a location he’d inferred from the gmail address. On Oct. 3, he filed a defamation lawsuit in Stafford County Circuit Court against McDaniel, whose only known address was email@example.com.
Through subpoenas to Google and two service providers, Reeves found the Gmail account was associated with a certain cellphone number — one belonging to Alex Vogel. The account was accessed via two IP addresses, one associated with the Vogels’ estate and the other with their neighbors, Lisa and James Gable.
Sen. Vogel and her husband have released a statement about the issue in which they reassert they they had no knowledge of the email, and in which they leave open the door for the possibility that they were hacked:
Jill and Alex Vogel have not sent, have not authorized, have not approved, and were not aware of any anonymous communications concerning either of her competitors for the Republican nomination. . . .They would never condone such tactics, nor would they permit a campaign employee or volunteer to do so on behalf of our campaign. . . . Regrettably, in this day and age, there are many ways a person can send an anonymous email and make it appear to have originated from another sender.”
Culpeper GOP Delegate Nick Freitas is having none of that. “I’ve known Jill for five years,” Freitas told the Post. “I don’t want to believe she’s capable of this. I desperately hold out hope there’s another explanation. I just don’t see what it would be at this point.”
For his part, Sen. Reeves appears to not have resolved how to move forward with the new information. “We have legal counsel. And we’re trying to figure out, now that we know who it is, do we go after them civilly? Do we file a bar complaint? Right now we’re trying to get our hands around where we are,” Reeves told the Post.
However this all shakes out, it’s not going to be pretty, and it is sure to overshadow the upcoming General Assembly session, when both Vogel and Reeves will serve together in the small and usually very collegial Virginia Senate.