RICHMOND — It was already going to be awkward: Two state senators, once friends, will return to the Capitol this month as rivals for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.
But the battle between Sens. Bryce E. Reeves (Spotsylvania) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier) has grown unusually ugly and personal, with allegations of deeply hurtful dirty tricks.
An email sent to some Reeves supporters accused him — falsely, he said — of having an affair with a campaign aide. Armed with subpoenaed Internet records, Reeves told The Washington Post that he had proof that Vogel or someone close to her was behind it. The message was linked to a cellphone belonging to Vogel’s husband, Alex Vogel, and to two IP addresses — one tied to the Vogels’ Upperville estate and the other to their next-door neighbors’ home, according to copies of the records provided to The Post.
“I don’t even know what to say, I’m so hurt,” said Reeves, a former Army Ranger and Prince William narcotics detective who is married with two children. “I’ve been in their home. I’ve eaten dinner with them. I’ve gotten to be a good friend of their children. But I guess when you want to win at all costs, you’ll do whatever it takes.”
Vogel, a nationally known GOP ethics lawyer, referred questions to her campaign manager, Pat Trueman, who issued a statement saying that the Vogels knew nothing about the message. The statement said the couple had not yet determined if the email really was linked to Vogel family electronics, saying they had only learned about Reeves’s claim after Christmas.
But the statement raised the possibility that the Vogels, both high-profile attorneys who made headlines in 2015 by buying part of an Upperville estate that had belonged to the late billionaire arts patron Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, had been victims of hacking.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
The Vogels’ next-door neighbor, Lisa Gable, whose home IP address was linked to the email, said she knew nothing about the message. She said the two families set up a shared wireless Internet system because of the lack of high-speed access in their rural area. Gable speculated that someone might have been able to tap into the system by parking in her driveway or the Vogels’.
“It’s beamed wirelessly across the neighborhood, but it’s not password protected,” she said. “We all live out in the country and never thought about it.”
Reeves’s campaign spokeswoman, Sam Azzarelli, responded to the hacking theory by suggesting that the Vogels agree to have their “phones, computers, and electronic devices forensically tested” by a mutually agreed-upon third party.
“We will help fund it to find out if they were truly hacked,” she said.
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.”
Trueman’s statement said that Vogel’s campaign “condemns the practice of disseminating information by scurrilous emails.”
The bitter finger-pointing has erupted as Reeves, Vogel and fellow legislators from across the state prepare to converge on Richmond on Jan. 11 for the General Assembly’s 46-day session. Any infighting will be unwelcome for Republicans, who are hoping to put the divisive 2016 presidential primary behind them as they prepare for the November contests for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. While the GOP controls both houses of the General Assembly and a majority of Virginia’s congressional seats, the party has not won a statewide race since 2009.
The Reeves-Vogel rivalry will hardly be the only one simmering inside what everyone here calls “Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.” Just down the marble hallway from the Senate sits a third GOP contender for lieutenant governor, state Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (Virginia Beach). And inside the Senate, a Republican running for governor, state Sen. Frank W. Wagner (Virginia Beach), will surely tangle with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who happens to preside over the chamber, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
But the drama swirling around Reeves and Vogel promises to upstage the others given its deeply personal nature and the startling turnabout it represents for the onetime friends. The two used to be part of the Senate’s “raucous caucus,” a tight band of GOP allies who once occupied the far corner of the chamber and drew occasional scolding from the Senate clerk for cutting up. They sit just a few seats apart in the chamber and serve on some of the same committees.
On Sept. 30, some Reeves supporters received an email from someone purportedly named “Martha McDaniel,” under the email address email@example.com.
“I am writing to you today concerning your public support for the candidacy of Sen. Bryce Reeves to be our next lieutenant governor,” it begins. “As a Christian, I am deeply troubled by Sen. Reeves personal conduct. People around the commonwealth have repeatedly talked about the fact that Sen. Reeves is carrying on an open and obvious adulterous relationship with his campaign staffer and constant companion.”
After hearing about the message from several recipients, Reeves said he tried to track down a Martha McDaniel but could not find anyone by that name in Stafford, a location he’d inferred from the gmail address. On Oct. 3, he filed a defamation lawsuit in Stafford County Circuit Court against McDaniel, whose only known address was firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through subpoenas to Google and two service providers, Reeves found the Gmail account was associated with a certain cellphone number — one belonging to Alex Vogel. The account was accessed via two IP addresses, one associated with the Vogels’ estate and the other with their neighbors, Lisa and James Gable.
Reeves said he does not know where the case goes from here.
“I think the next step is Anne and I need to pray about it,” Reeves said, referring to his wife of 25 years. “We have legal counsel. And we’re trying to figure out, now that we know who it is, do we go after them civilly? Do we file a bar complaint? Right now we’re trying to get our hands around where we are.”
Among those who received the email was Del. Nicholas Freitas (R-Culpeper) and Travis Witt, pastor of Gilboa Christian Church in rural Mineral and the former chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation.
“I’ve known Jill for five years,” Freitas said. “I don’t want to believe she’s capable of this. I desperately hold out hope there’s another explanation. I just don’t see what it would be at this point.”
Witt said his first instinct was to call Reeves, who assured him the affair allegation was false. His next was to write back to the sender.
“As a Christian, you have a responsibility to secure the facts,” he wrote. “If you have not spoken to Bryce Reeves about this matter, then speaking to me or anyone else based on the comments of others is biblically incorrect, aka gossip and rumormongering.”
He said he got no response.
“It dismays me that this is a part of the political process,” he said. “It doesn’t belong in politics. We don’t need this stuff.”