RICHMOND — The head of the state tobacco commission warned that the panel would create the appearance of “manipulating” power in the Virginia Senate if it announced that it was hiring Sen. Phillip P. Puckett on the same day he gave up his seat, according to e-mails released Thursday.
Tim Pfohl, interim executive director of the commission, said in a June 5 e-mail to Puckett, a Democrat from rural Russell County, that he had begged Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott) to delay making it known that Puckett was getting a top staff job with the commission. Kilgore is chairman of the commission.
“Phillip: Terry spoke to us today about announcing your role w/ the Commission in conjunction with what he said is your intention to announce your Senate plans tomorrow,” Pfohl wrote. “I implored him to ‘decouple’ those announcements for the sake of the appearance of the Commission manipulating the Senate balance of power and starting WW3 w/ the Governor’s administration.”
Pfohl went on to say that the commission’s executive committee still planned to meet a few days later to give Puckett the job.
“I mention all this so you know what’s being planned on our end to give this the most defensible appearance of due process,” Pfohl added.
The message is among 74 pages of e-mails that The Washington Post obtained Thursday under a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents shed light on what went on behind the scenes in the days leading up to Puckett’s surprise resignation.
His exit, which handed Republicans control of the evenly divided Senate in the middle of a standoff over the state budget and Medicaid expansion, was connected to job prospects for Puckett and his daughter. Puckett and Kilgore have said there was never any quid pro quo, but the move infuriated Democrats and sparked an FBI investigation.
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