RICHMOND — The Republican Party of Virginia filed a formal ethics complaint Friday against Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) for “brainstorming” about jobs for a state senator’s daughter as he tried to dissuade the legislator from quitting during a bitterly partisan Medicaid battle.
Pat Mullins, chairman of the state GOP, urged the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to probe Warner’s actions in connection with the resignation of Phillip P. Puckett in June.
“[I]f Warner offered to use his influence to land a job for anyone based simply on political considerations, he has violated Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which is punishable up to 15 years in prison,” Mullins wrote to the committee.
Warner spokesman Kevin Hall dismissed Mullins’s letter as a politically motivated effort to extend the Puckett saga. The scandal sparked a six-month federal investigation that concluded last month without charges.
“This is the last pathetic partisan attack of the 2014 campaign,” Hall said. “It has no merit, and everyone else has moved on.”
Puckett, a Southwest Virginia Democrat, abruptly resigned in June amid job talks with Republicans, throwing control of the evenly divided chamber to Republicans in the middle of a standoff over whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
When word of Puckett’s planned departure began to leak, Warner was one of many Democrats who urged him to stay. Warner called Puckett’s son, Joseph, and discussed potential jobs for the state senator’s daughter, including a federal judgeship and private-sector work.
Warner has acknowledged “brainstorming” about potential jobs but denied making any explicit job offers to dissuade Puckett from leaving. His actions became an issue in his bid for reelection in November. Warner won a closer-than-expected race over Republican Ed Gillespie.
Paul Reagan, chief of staff to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), called Puckett and suggested that Puckett’s daughter might get a state job if he stayed in the Senate to support Medicaid expansion, McAuliffe’s top legislative goal.
Puckett said he was leaving to clear the way for his daughter to become a juvenile court judge. Martha Puckett Ketron served as the interim, but the state Senate’s anti-nepotism policy prevented her appointment to a full term while her father was in office.
Puckett was also discussing a job for himself with the GOP-controlled tobacco commission. He withdrew his name from consideration as Democrats accused him of trading his Senate seat for a job for himself and judgeship for his daughter. He has said that there was no quid pro quo and that his discussions with the tobacco commission began only after he had decided to leave.
A federal prosecutor in June launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Puckett’s departure. He announced last month that no charges would be filed. There was no indication that Warner was a subject of the investigation.
In a letter sent in December declaring the six-month probe over, federal prosecutors closed the matter legally but also revealed for the first time that McAuliffe’s chief of staff had been drawn into the investigation.
Timothy J. Heaphy, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, declared the probe over in letters to four people who had been interviewed during the investigation. Warner was not among them. The four were Reagan and attorneys for Puckett, Puckett’s son, Joseph, and Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), who is chairman of the tobacco commission.