RICHMOND, Oct. 15 -- Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) has agreed to be deposed in a lawsuit filed by Democratic lawmakers over political eavesdropping by senior officials in the Republican Party.
Kilgore, who is the likely GOP nominee for governor in 2005, will be questioned for about two hours on the morning of Nov. 2, even as Virginians go to the polls to vote in this year's presidential election.
Former GOP official Edmund A. Matricardi III has pleaded guilty to eavesdropping.
Attorneys for the Democratic lawmakers said they are eager to probe exactly when Kilgore discovered that the Republican Party's top staff official had secretly listened in on a March 2002 conference call in which Democrats plotted strategy for an upcoming legislative battle over redistricting.
That discovery roiled Virginia politics and set in motion a series of criminal investigations and top-level GOP resignations. Edmund A. Matricardi III, the former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, pleaded guilty in March 2003 to federal eavesdropping charges. Gary R. Thomson, the former chairman of the party, and Claudia Tucker, the top aide to former House speaker S. Vance Wilkins, and several others pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the case.
"We're interested in what [Kilgore] and people in his office knew about the eavesdropping, prior to the strategy meeting attended by key aides of his on March 25," said Kenneth C. Smurzynski, the attorney for the Democrats. "We're testing what he knew and what others on his staff knew."
Democrats are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Republican Party of Virginia and others in compensation for the eavesdropping. Republicans have accused Democrats of filing the lawsuit in an attempt to tarnish Kilgore's reputation before next year's election.
Kilgore has said that he reported the eavesdropping to Virginia State Police for investigation as soon as he discovered it had happened. Earlier this summer, Kilgore had challenged the Democratic lawmakers to interview him in the case, but said his offer was good for only two weeks.
"It is imperative that everyone remembers that were it not for the actions of the office of the attorney general, no one would know that crimes were committed," said Kilgore spokesman J. Tucker Martin. "The attorney general looks forward to talking about the role the office of the attorney general had in reporting criminal activity."
Martin said that Kilgore will hire a private lawyer to represent him and that a transcript of the deposition will be made available.
The written agreement to have Kilgore questioned was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Richmond. The six-page document sets the date and time of the interview and describes in detail how a videotape of the session can be used.
Under the agreement, the videotape and any copy will be shown only to parties in the lawsuit and will be destroyed when the case is over. Lawyers for the Democrats will hold the tape during the case and will give the judge a log of everyone who has looked at it, the agreement says.
Smurzynski said it was Kilgore who chose Election Day for the deposition. "We were happy to accommodate the attorney general," he said.
Also this week, the federal judge in the case, James R. Spencer, said U.S. Attorney Paul F. McNulty must turn over investigative notes and other documents he collected during criminal investigations involving the eavesdropping.
The order, issued Tuesday, exempted some grand jury material but said notes, FBI interview reports and search warrants must be turned over for review. Smurzynski said the judge gave his clients "nearly everything we asked for."