Head of Virginia GOP under investigation in connection with land deal in Fluvanna County

A special prosecutor is investigating the newly installed executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia amid allegations related to his tenure as chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors.

Shaun Kenney, who took over day-to-day operations of the party last month, is under investigation for his role in a purchase of land that may have been poised for public development, according to The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. Kenney confirmed the investigation but denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the newspaper.

“There’s nothing there,” Kenney told The Virginian-Pilot. “It’s a citizen complaint designed to embarrass a public official.”

The matter was referred to the commonwealth’s attorney in Fauquier County to avoid a conflict of interest in Fluvanna. Special prosecutor Abigail Owens, reached by telephone Friday, confirmed that a state police investigation had been conducted and said she was waiting for the report to arrive by mail. She declined to elaborate.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, in particular one involving an elected official.

The Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins hired Kenney at a time when the party is trying to navigate a nasty fight between establishment forces and grassroots activists influenced by the tea party. Those activists assumed control of the state GOP’s governing board two years ago, helping then-attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II win the nomination for governor. Cuccinelli’s defeat against Terry McAuliffe in November was interpreted by many in the GOP as a sign that the Republican nominee had taken his party too far to the right in rapidly changing Virginia.

Echoes of the conflict have played out in this year’s intraparty elections. Last weekend a longtime party official from the 7th Congressional District — who received the full-throated support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — was unseated by a tea party favorite.

Kenney was a controversial choice because of some of the positions he took in his former role as a conservative blogger. In one instance, he called for then-governor Robert F. McDonnell’s resignation long before the governor was indicted.

GOP consultant Chris LaCivita, who counts Cuccinelli among his clients, tweeted last month about Kenney and the rift.

“[Your] job is to push news about your opponents and not trash your own party. Sean. You need to go,” he wrote, adding: “Let me repeat. The current GOP Ed cannot represent all the party when he attacks it. Let the countdown begin.”

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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