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Va. Republican leaders ask for special session to investigate parole board after release of recording
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Va. Republican leaders ask for special session to investigate parole board after release of recording

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House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, right, listens as House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, back to camera, objects to a procedural resolution on conducting the session as the Virginia House of Delegates conducts their special session inside the Siegel Center in Richmond, VA Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

Republican legislative leaders called for lawmakers to begin an investigation of misconduct at the Virginia Parole Board following coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend of a meeting between the governor’s office and a state watchdog agency.

Democrats who control the General Assembly have already dismissed GOP calls for an investigation by the legislature.

The Times-Dispatch reported Saturday on a recording of the Aug. 14 meeting between members of the governor’s staff and a team from the Office of the State Inspector General, which at the time had been investigating numerous reports of misconduct by the parole board. The governor appoints members of the parole board and also oversees the inspector general.

In the meeting, Brian Moran, the secretary of public safety and homeland security, lectured the inspector general and his team, accusing them of being used as a “political tool.” A deputy to Moran accused OSIG of bias.

Inspector General Michael Westfall in the meeting told the governor’s staff OSIG wouldn’t be looking into any new complaints about the parole board and would instead forward them to the governor’s office. After the meeting, he was heard on the recording telling his team he worried for his job security.

Westfall’s agency substantiated violations of law or policy in the process the parole board used in granting parole to convicted killers in at least eight cases. The status of two pending parole board investigations OSIG was conducting remains unclear.

During a special session on April 7, Democrats approved an amendment requested by Gov. Ralph Northam that authorizes up to $250,000 for a new investigation of how OSIG investigated one of the most controversial cases the parole board handled last year.

“The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in a statement emailed by one of his aides. “That’s why the ‘investigation’ authorized by the Governor’s budget amendment doesn’t touch the Parole Board. It’s not an investigation, it’s retribution against the Inspector General for having the temerity to do his job.”

Senate Republicans in a statement said Northam’s administration “never expressed interest in the merits of the Inspector General’s report, only in how the facts revealed by that report would make them look. ... That they would bully the State Inspector General into abandoning the mission of his office is disgraceful.”

A spokesman for House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said hiring investigators outside the legislature allows for the work to be done free of partisan influence. But the spokesman did not answer a question Monday about why lawmakers limited the investigation to how OSIG handled one case, as opposed to an investigation that also looks at the broader problems at the parole board.

While questions remain about the parole board’s conduct, Northam’s office said the audio recording should clarify one allegation made by some Republican lawmakers, who questioned whether Northam’s office was involved in the editing of OSIG’s report on how the parole board handled the case of Vincent Martin. Martin was convicted in the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer and was paroled last year.

The report by OSIG in the case was six pages, but news media later obtained a previous version of the report that was 13 pages — apparently a draft — and contained further information about misconduct. The discrepancy between the reports and why seven pages of material were removed has not been explained.

The Aug. 14 meeting between Northam’s staff and OSIG happened after the final, six-page report had been released.

The governor’s office has previously said no one there was involved in editing that report, and press secretary Alena Yarmosky said the audio recording backs up the governor’s office.

In a statement, she said “no one in the Office of the Governor had been previously aware of, or involved in the editing of, any draft reports in the Vincent Martin case (or any draft report in any parole board case, for that matter). Any assertion otherwise is false.”

Senate Republicans, some of whom had asked whether Northam’s office was involved in the editing, acknowledged Monday that the audio recording suggests the governor’s office was not involved.

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