by Paul Goldman
RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – In the fast developing wild political ride also known as the 2013 Governor’s race, local Richmond prosecutor – Democrat Mike Herring – has saved Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli this morning from facing a certain loss this November.
Mr. Herring issued his long-awaited report concluding Mr. Cuccinelli had broken no laws, had made illegal promises, had engaged in no influence peddling and, in effect, had been wrongfully accused of such by political opponents and the news media.
But you say, “Paul, I didn’t even know such an investigation into such charges had been going on. What the heck are you talking about?”
My response: “I understand your puzzlement. According to the polls, most Virginians had at best a vague awareness of this situation. But it could have destroyed Mr. Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign. Now Mr. Herring has likely insulated Mr. Cuccinelli from what would otherwise been a fatal flaw. Why did Democrat Herring do it? Was he right? These are fair questions, so let me try to determine the right answer.”
A few months ago, Mr. Cuccinelli, currently the Virginia Attorney General, discovered his annually required economic disclosure report [mandatory for all state wide elected officials] didn’t include certain required items such as ownership of Star Scientific stock and certain gifts from Mr. Jonnie Williams Sr.
If these two names – Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams Sr.- sound familiar, this means you have been following the news.
They are the same names at the center of the growing controversy of whether or not Governor and Mrs. McDonnell accepted hundreds of thousands in unreported or cleverly veiled gifts from Star and Williams in exchange for the First Family’s help in promoting one of the company’s new products.
The Governor has been hounded by the media, led by the powerful Washington Post, indeed the newspaper carries another front page Metro story today on the controversy. The paper is clearly trying to earn a Pulitzer Prize for her reporters on this story. This will of course require that Mr. McDonnell either resign or go to jail at some point in the future. The Post would apparently not mind either outcome.
So far, Governor McDonnell has provided no active public defense to his actions, other than urge voters not to believe all they read. In addition, the Governor hired earlier this week a second big time white collar crime defense lawyer [he let go the first one for reasons unknown].
The public, based on the latest polls, seems currently inclined to give the Governor the benefit of the doubt, except for Democrats who didn’t vote for the conservative Republican anyway. This is the normal political arc of such stories as those who didn’t vote for you are most likely to assume the worst.
As long as neither a state nor federal prosecutor charges Mr. McDonnell with wrongdoing, or there is a far more explosive newspaper revelation as to unethical conduct on the part of the Governor, the Governor will not be hounded by his own party or independent voters to resign.
This means he can stay on the job.
But should this change, he might be able to limp through the last few months of his term. However, his political career would be over. Kaput. Nil. Nada. You get the point.
If Democratic Herring had indicated any such conclusions as to Mr. Cuccinelli’s incomplete disclosure filings, then the GOP gubernatorial candidate would have been Dead Candidate Walking. A sure loser. The same for his GOP ticket. As they say: Put a fork in him, he’s done.
Democrat Herring clearing Republican Cuccinelli of any illegal or unethical actions SAVES the GOP hopeful’s gubernatorial campaign from destruction. It doesn’t mean Cuccinelli will win, or that he even can win. The Attorney General remains the underdog to Democratic Terry McAuliffe as the current polls make clear.
But Cuccinelli has avoided a political death sentence.
Raising the question: Did Mr. Herring make the right conclusions?
Yes, I got to give him due credit for his legal conclusions. He based his findings on the letter of the law, not the emotions inherent in a hard-fought gubernatorial race. Virginia law makes this plain, we all make mistakes, and thus as to the annual public disclosure of assets and gifts required of elected officials there must be evidence of intentionality to trigger charges.
If you are just dumb, lazy or forgetful, you get a free pass and can amend your filings as Cuccinelli did.
Or put another way, a mistake is a mistake.
Even if it is hard to believe, it doesn’t rise to any other level unless there is reason to support a finding that you tried to hide something on purpose.
Mr. Herring found that all of Mr. Cuccinelli’s omissions were mistakes. He detailed the reasoning for this conclusion in a lengthy report.
In my view, it is not possible, at least reasonably, to dispute the fairness of his conclusion. Mistakes on this particular state form are quite common in my experience in politics over the years. There is no evidence that Mr. Cuccinelli’s mistakes – several to be sure and all involving Star or Williams – were intentional.
This is BIG political news
Democrat Herring has saved Republican Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign. The law, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, is the line between us and the jungle. We need to respect it, follow it, don’t ruin it by greed or passion or political partisanship.
The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney respected the law today. He cleared the Republican Attorney General based on the strict reading of the relevant statutes.
He made the right legal decision. Whether it actually helps Mr. Cuccinelli politically is both a separate question and unclear at that. As I have written, his campaign is rudderless, his team clueless, he has yet to articulate a compelling reason to elect him to the state’s highest position.
But he gets to debate Mr. McAuliffe on Saturday – their first such encounter – with a clean bill of health in terms of wrongdoing from a Democrat prosecutor.
That is a very big political deal, at least potentially.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.