RPV Chairman Pat Mullins today issued a sharply worded letter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics pointing out the apparent violation arising from Sen. Warner’s attempt to persuade Phil Puckett to stay in the Virginia Senate last June to avoid ceding a controlling majority of the body to the Republicans.[read_more]
As we’ve detailed previously, back in June Virginia state Senator Phil Puckett (D-Russell) resigned to clear the way for his daughter to get past the anti-nepotism rules in the Senate and get a state level judicial appointment. That appointment never happened after the firestorm of controversy erupted over his apparently having also been enticed with a job offer on the state tobacco commission to free up a new seat for a Republican senator.
Later, the Washington Post reported that in an effort to keep Puckett in the Virginia Senate (and thereby keep that body in Democratic control), Sen. Mark Warner called Puckett’s son to offer an appointment to the federal bench for his sister—–if only his dad, Sen. Puckett, would stay put. Apparently this came too late, as Puckett had already made his final decision to resign.
So how did Warner respond to the revelation? Well, first he admitted it, but then he said he was just “brainstorming” about ways to help Puckett. You know, just casually tossing around completely innocent ideas.
That’s not brainstorming. It’s bribestorming—thinking up creative ways to use one’s power and influence to purchase influence (with taxpayer dollars) over a sitting legislator.
Now outgoing RPV Chairman Pat Mullins (last seen trying to chase a racist bigot out of the RNC) has leveled the very serious charge that Warner may have violated the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, in a letter to the body charged with overseeing the ethics of the U.S. Senate:
Mullins Letter to Senate Ethics
The text of the relevant statute can be found here. In pertinent part it reads,
Whoever, being a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress or an employee of either House of Congress, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity —
(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or
(2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
Beyond the apparent double standard of application of the Hobbs Act (the statute under which Bob McDonnell was convicted for not making anything remotely like an official act in exchange for lavish gifts), which seemingly should capture within its ambit Warner’s having dangled in front of Puckett a federal judgeship appointment for his daughter, this statute reaches squarely into the private sector, forbidding Senators from trading on their status to secure an employment decision for things like keeping partisan control of a state Senate seat. The “corporate gig” Warner offered for Martha (Puckett) Ketron certainly qualifies.
Obama administration prosecutors in Virginia closed their investigation into the Puckett scandal which, unlike in McDonnell’s case, involved high ranking Democrats. Now, however, the Republican-led U.S. Senate will get a chance to do the right thing and help bring someone who may be guilty of a much more serious instance of public corruption to justice.
The justice department dropped their investigation of the Puckett scandal like a hot potato after learning about McAuliffe’s and Warner’s involvement.
That could be true. One thing is certain, McDonnell’s prosecution using a novel legal theory of what constitutes an “official act” should not have gone forward.
This federal statute is extremely poorly worded. Couldn’t they come up with better wording than it being illegal to use your influence on employment “solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation”? So if you have two or more motives you off the hook? Oh well.