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Kaine: Richmond owes residents clearer explanation on alleged Dogwood Dell plot

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Levar Stoney and Tim Kaine

In March 2018, Mayor Levar Stoney (left) and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.,  (right) spoke during a gun safety rally in Richmond.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Friday that Richmond officials owe residents a further explanation about the purported mass shooting plot city police said they foiled at Dogwood Dell.

During an hourlong session with reporters and editors at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Kaine also said he plans to seek re-election in 2024 and that he will back President Joe Biden if the president runs again.

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During a July 6 news conference, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney said authorities had foiled a planned July 4 mass shooting at Dogwood Dell. But during an Aug. 3 hearing for two men charged in connection with the alleged plot, a city prosecutor told a judge that he had no evidence that it was planned for Dogwood Dell.

“I have no inside intel other than what I read in the paper,” said Kaine, who served as a Richmond council member and as the city’s mayor before he was elected lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator.

UPDATE: Prosecutor says no evidence Dogwood Dell was target of alleged plot; Richmond chief 'stands behind' investigation

“I think, though, city officials are duty-bound to provide an explanation because they came out strong about this is what this was.

“If they did an arrest up front and they didn’t say ‘this was going to be a mass-shooting incident,’ then they wouldn’t owe an explanation about a decision with respect to these charges,” Kaine said.

“But having come out of the gate and [said] ‘OK, this is a mass shooting incident,’ and then prosecutorial decisions suggest well maybe it wasn’t, I think you have to answer that question.”

Kaine said that if officials reached a conclusion in error, “there’s no shame in that.” He noted that Bill Leighty, a chief of staff during Kaine’s term as governor, had a saying that “the first reports are always wrong,” in an emergency. That proved true during the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the senator said.

Read the statement: Chief 'stands behind the investigative work' into alleged Richmond mass shooting plot

“So people don’t need to be embarrassed about saying, ‘We thought X and it turned out to be wrong.’ That’s always the case,” Kaine said.

“But having told you that, I do think there needs to be some clarification.”

Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Stoney, said in a statement: “As RTD and others have reported and are well aware, this case is now in the hands of federal authorities, and the legal process must be allowed to play out. That said, the mayor expects the police department to continue to keep residents informed on issues of public safety, and on this case, when and where it is appropriate.

“The mayor believes the most important goal of policing is keeping the residents of our city safe, and he is grateful that RPD’s swift action on a tip removed a serious potential threat from the community. He encourages the community to partner with the department to provide the same kind of valuable information that can help keep everyone safe.”

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As for his election plans, Kaine, a senator since 2013, said: “My plan right now is yes, I’m running.” Kaine added that he will make a final decision after this November’s elections.

“I’m not young, but I’m still youthful and healthy and productive and having fun,” said Kaine, 64.

Regarding the president, he said, “If Joe Biden runs, I’m going to back him,” adding that he has no particular insight into the president’s plans.

Kaine, who ran for vice president as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, also weighed in on Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who is considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

Kaine said Youngkin could be an appealing candidate to Republicans because Youngkin’s successful run for governor in 2021 “threaded the needle” in attracting supporters of former President Donald Trump “without clinging too close to Trump.”

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“That’s a balance that’s tough,” Kaine said. The senator said he thinks it is unwise for Republican hopefuls to cling closely to Trump, but said Trump voters are “the engine” of the Republican electorate.

“If I were on the Republican side — so let me put myself into those shoes — I mean, I can see that Glenn Youngkin would be very attractive,” Kaine said.

“Now, the problem that he would have is Donald Trump is still the dominant figure in that party.”

This week, Kaine denounced a Youngkin tweet that criticized the Department of Justice over the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The senator noted Friday that while he thought Youngkin’s criticism was off-base, he said it also did not help the Virginia congressional delegation’s effort to woo FBI headquarters to Virginia, rather than Maryland.

“You even see Governor Youngkin understands that,” Kaine said of Trump’s continued dominance in the GOP. “So he had to come to Donald Trump’s aid over Mar-a-Lago in ways that I don’t think he should have.”

Kaine added: “The challenge for Youngkin is that nobody’s ever left the governor’s office early.”

Virginia is the only state that bars governors from serving consecutive terms. The only Virginia governor in modern times to run for president during his term is Doug Wilder, who lost the Democratic nomination to Bill Clinton in 1992.

On another matter, Kaine recently introduced the Reproductive Freedom for All Act, an effort to federally protect abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Kaine said that while the measure does not currently have enough votes to overcome Senate filibuster rules, he noted that congressional efforts on gun legislation were ineffective during most of his nearly 10 years in the Senate.

“For 10 years, we’ve been trying to do something on guns and we didn’t have 60 votes. That didn’t stop us from putting bills on the table, but we couldn’t move them,” he said.

“But eventually” the mass shootings in “Buffalo and Texas back to back were the things that were the tipping point.”

“We’ve got to do something,” Kaine said of codifying abortion rights. “I just think that the Dobbs case is going to create this steady drumbeat of stories.”

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

cwoods@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

@charlottewords

Staff writer Chris Suarez contributed to this report.

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