Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) challenged Democrats yesterday to question him in a lawsuit they have filed against the state Republican Party over eavesdropping on Democratic conference calls more than two years ago.
Kilgore's offer, good for the next two weeks, came after Democrats filed a petition on Monday seeking to widen their search for information to include some of Kilgore's aides, including a political adviser for his 2005 campaign for governor.
Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin said the offer and immediate timetable were an attempt to put the eavesdropping incident in the past and to see whether the lawsuit was merely a political ploy by Democrats to keep the matter in the public's mind as Kilgore campaigns for governor.
"This has lingered on for a while now, and the attorney general is saying if this is a serious case, he's ready to give a deposition," Martin said. "Let's do this."
Kenneth C. Smurzynski, an attorney for the Democrats, said in a statement "we are delighted that Attorney General Kilgore has agreed to be deposed in this matter" but indicated that he was awaiting important evidence that made it unlikely he could meet Kilgore's deadline.
Edward J. Fuhr, an attorney for the Republican Party of Virginia in the case, acknowledged that the Democrats could subpoena Kilgore for questioning if they don't want to do it in the next two weeks but that when "dealing with somebody in the position of the attorney general of the commonwealth, a considerable amount of deference ought to be made on scheduling matters."
The lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in December, stems from eavesdropping by Republicans on conference calls among Democrats as they planned strategy during a redistricting battle in 2002. Several Democratic legislators involved in the calls are suing for monetary damages. The suit names former state GOP executive director Edmund A. Matricardi III, former state party chairman Gary R. Thomson, former House speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., former Wilkins aide Claudia D. Tucker and the Republican Party of Virginia.
Matricardi pleaded guilty to felony eavesdropping; Thomson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of helping to disseminate the contents of the call; and Tucker pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for listening to one of the calls.
During testimony nearly a year ago, Matricardi said that Wilkins approved his actions and that Matricardi conferred with Anne Petera, Kilgore's director of administration, after listening to the first conference call. Both Wilkins and Petera have denied those statements, but Democrats have jumped on the claims.
In December, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Kilgore's likely opponent in 2005, criticized the attorney general for allowing members of his staff to attend a meeting with Matricardi days after the eavesdropping.
Yesterday, state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), one of the plaintiffs, questioned Kilgore's two-week timetable. "It seems to me if he's clean, it doesn't matter when he testifies," Saslaw said.
Fuhr said the suit aimed to divert the public's attention. "I think that the Democrats would rather rehash old news than defend their decision to increase taxes on millions of Virginians at a time when Virginia, as it turns out, is running a budget surplus," he said.