RICHMOND — A prominent defamation lawyer warned state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel on Wednesday to preserve computer, cellphone and other records that might be linked to an anonymous email accusing one of her Republican primary rivals of having an affair.
Elizabeth M. Locke — who represented a former University of Virginia associate dean who successfully sued Rolling Stone last year over a discredited gang-rape story — also pressed Vogel (RFauquier) in a letter to submit her home computers and cellphones to a third-party forensics examination.
Vogel is seeking her party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. Also competing for the nod is state Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (Virginia Beach) and state Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania).
Late last year, anonymous messages targeting Reeves were linked through subpoenaed Internet records to Vogel’s home IP address and to her husband’s cellphone. Vogel, who has strongly denied any involvement or knowledge of the messages, has suggested that hackers are to blame.
Reeves has been pressing for a forensics analysis since late December, offering to help pay for it, but Vogel has not responded. His hiring of Locke, who also represents a Virginia gun rights group in a pending defamation suit against Katie Couric over a documentary on gun violence, could turn up the pressure.
“It’s been 32 days since Bryce offered to help pay for the Vogels to have their electronic devices forensically tested by an independent, third-party investigator,” said Sam Azzarelli, Reeves’s campaign spokeswoman. “All of this could have been resolved a month ago, allowing everyone to move on, but the Vogels still have not acknowledged or accepted his generous offer.”
Vogel declined to comment on Locke’s letter.
When Reeves first disclosed the connection between the emails and the Vogels’ electronics on Dec. 31, Vogel’s campaign issued this statement: “Jill and Alex Vogel have not sent, have not authorized, have not approved, and were not aware of any anonymous communications concerning either of her competitors for the Republican nomination. They would never condone such tactics, nor would they permit a campaign employee or volunteer to do so on behalf of our campaign. . . . Regrettably, in this day and age, there are many ways a person can send an anonymous email and make it appear to have originated from another sender.”
An email sent to some Reeves supporters in the fall accused him — falsely, he said — of having an affair with a campaign aide. Reeves filed a lawsuit against Martha McDaniel — the sender’s pseudonym — and obtained subpoenas for Internet records associated with the email.
According to records provided by Google and two service providers, the Gmail account used to send the message was set up with a certain cellphone number — one belonging to Vogel’s husband, Alex Vogel. The account was accessed via two IP addresses, one associated with the Vogels’ Upperville estate and the other with their neighbors, who share a wireless, non-password-protected Internet system with the Vogels because of the lack of high-speed access in their rural area.
Vogel, former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, is managing partner of Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, a firm with locations in Washington and Warrenton. She specializes in ethics, campaign finance and tax-exempt organizations. Alex Vogel, who has served as the RNC’s deputy counsel, is managing partner of VogelHood Group, which bills itself as “Washington’s premier policy research and consulting firm.”
“Even though the record makes clear that the defamatory emails originated from your home and your husband’s cellular phone, Senator Reeves is willing to help pay a mutually-agreed-upon independent forensic technology expert to conduct a thorough analysis of your electronic communications devices to determine once and for all whether you were involved with the defamatory emails,” Locke wrote. “The Senator has repeatedly made this offer to you — most recently in a January 3, 2017 letter — but thus far, you have failed to respond to his requests.”
Reeves has not filed a lawsuit against the Vogels nor amended his existing suit against “McDaniel” to name them as defendants. But Locke’s letter seems to suggest that could be coming if they do not agree to the forensic testing.
“Absent immediate responsive and responsible conduct by you as required above, Senator Reeves and his family will take all appropriate steps available under the law to protect his reputation and set the record straight,” Locke wrote.