A special prosecutor filed two charges of election fraud against a campaign staffer for former Republican congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia but did not say if Taylor broke any laws in a fraudulent ballot-signature scheme.
Donald S. Caldwell, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, confirmed that Lauren Creekmore Peabody was charged Monday with two counts of election fraud for allegedly signing petitions that included forged names.
Last fall, a Richmond judge found that several staffers from Taylor’s reelection campaign had submitted false signatures on petitions to help a rival, Shaun Brown, get on the ballot to run against him.
Democrats said Taylor was trying to split the opposing vote so he could win a second term representing the Virginia Beach-area congressional district.
The scandal represented a turning point in the race, helping propel the Democratic nominee, Elaine Luria, to victory in November in a swing district that had been carried by President Trump in 2016.
Citing the Fifth Amendment, Taylor’s staffers declined to testify in the case against Brown. But the Virginia Beach commonwealth’s attorney asked the court to appoint his counterpart in Roanoke, Caldwell, as special prosecutor to see if there were criminal violations.
“Is there probable cause to believe that violations of Virginia law were committed by one or more persons in the submission of election petitions for Shaun Brown?” Caldwell wrote in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “Based upon the facts that have been developed at this point in time, the answer to this question is clearly yes.”
Caldwell wrote that he found “no collusion” between Taylor and Brown to have her run as an independent in the race. He did find that Taylor met with staffers in his congressional office last June and made the decision to help Brown “by using available campaign resources to circulate petitions on her behalf.”
But Caldwell noted that simply circulating petitions for someone else — “whatever their motivation for that decision” — is not a crime. And he said there was no evidence of any directive to create fake signatures.
He added, though, that “what actually happened within the campaign headquarters is still a subject of investigation due primarily to the lack of cooperation of key individuals.” The investigation continues, Caldwell said, and “the full explanation of what happened will hopefully be answered in the months to come.”
Caldwell said based on the information available to police, the questionable petitions were produced by a group of six to eight people, whom he did not identify.
Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Caldwell’s statement “made it crystal clear: Scott Taylor’s campaign participated in a criminal forgery scheme to cheat the voters of a district Taylor represented. We are proud that our lawsuit was able to shed light into this clear attempt to undermine Virginia’s free and fair election process.”
In a short statement, Luria campaign spokesman Chris Carroll said the congresswoman is focused on doing her job “with energy and integrity.”
Taylor framed the prosecutor’s findings as “a complete vindication. . . . Today serves as a complete repudiation of the smears and lies leveled against me in the campaign last year,” he said in a statement distributed on social media.
The findings seem to contradict Taylor’s initial statements last year, in which he distanced himself from the effort to help Brown and said he was “in D.C. when this stuff happened.” Caldwell established that Taylor was in on the initial decision.
But Taylor has consistently said he did not know of any plan to create fake signatures, and Caldwell said the former congressman had cooperated with the investigation.
Democrats seized on the scandal during the campaign and produced multiple ads questioning Taylor’s integrity.
On Tuesday, Taylor suggested he might take legal action, tweeting, “Statute of limitations has certainly not run out. We WILL be exploring all legal options. Threshold for defamation against a public figure is disseminating info you knew was false, with malicious intent.”
He also seemed to blame the scandal for his defeat.
“It is clear the millions spent by the dishonest Democrats impacted the outcome of the race,” Taylor said.