Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 2, 2014

Griffith ‘stunned’ by FBI investigation into Puckett resignation

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said Tuesday that he believes the federal investigation into the recent resignation of former Southwest Virginia lawmaker Phillip Puckett is politically motivated.

Griffith, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressing his concern into the FBI investigation centered around Puckett, a long-time Democrat whose surprise resignation last month gave Republicans a 20-19 majority in the Virginia General Assembly. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe lost his bargaining edge with Republicans in the battle to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in the state following Puckett’s resignation.

“Many instances have occurred at both the federal and the state level involving both Republican and Democrat elected officials in which resignations have been tendered and suitable appointments extended for political purposes, and there have never been any inklings of federal scrutiny,” Griffith said in a press release issued Tuesday. “I am stunned by reports that the FBI has opened an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Senator Puckett’s resignation, and am deeply concerned that this particular investigation is politically motivated. If it is not politically motivated, then why isn’t the FBI investigating President Obama, Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, and former Governor Gilmore and their appointees as well?”

The FBI is apparently looking into a potential job offer the GOP-controlled Virginia Tobacco Commission offered Puckett, according to the Associated Press. The AP reported last week that the commission’s interim executive director had been ordered to appear before a federal grand jury.

“As you are likely aware, Sen. Puckett’s resignation gave Republicans a 20-19 majority in the Virginia State Senate, thus ending deadlock over the Commonwealth’s budget and Medicaid expansion — the latter of subject I would note is dear to this administration’s heart,” Griffith wrote in the letter to Holder. “Media reports indicate that the investigation is centered on the time of Sen. Puckett’s resignation and his alleged consideration for a position with the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (commonly referred to as the Tobacco Commission), as well as the permanent appointment of his daughter to a state judgeship. I would note that Sen. Puckett has publicly stated that he is not accepting any position with the tobacco commission. That said, even if he had pursued employment with the tobacco commission, he would have been, by all accounts, well qualified for the job given his experience with the Senate, the tobacco commission, and in banking.”

Griffith adds in the letter that Puckett’s daughter, Martha Ketron, had been serving as an interim Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge, but was denied election to a full term on the court by the General Assembly because the state Senate does not appoint the immediate family of sitting senators to the bench.

“By all accounts, Judge Ketron died a commendable job during her interim appointment and is well-qualified to serve on the bench for a full term,” Griffith added in the letter to Holder. “The only obstacle to her service was the fact that her father was a sitting member of the Virginia Senate.”

Griffith said Puckett has not received any employment or personal enrichment in return for his resignation from the Senate.

Pat Mullins, chairman of the state Republican Party of Virginia, also issued a press release Tuesday calling a federal investigation into the resignation of Virginia Delegate Bob Brink, a Democrat who is taking a job with the McAuliffe administration. Mullins said if Puckett is being investigated for the possibility of taking a government job — Brink should be investigated as well.

“Indeed, after the hue and cry that went up from Democrats after Phil Puckett resigned — with the possibility of taking a government job — I would have expected the U.S. Attorney to immediately launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Del. Brink’s departure,” Mullins said in the press release.

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

 

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