The story has been brewing for months, casting doubt on the Parole Board’s leadership and raising serious questions about who knew what about the board’s activities, when they knew it and what they did once they became aware of the problems.
That includes members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) staff. A whistleblower lawsuit alleges Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, and Brian Moran, secretary of public safety, “interrogated” senior investigator Jennifer Moschetti over the release of a draft report from the inspector general’s office that exposed a pattern of Parole Board missteps and questionable activity.
Mercer added to his role in the affair recently, telling reporters gathered for an update on the state’s coronavirus response that he and others “went into that meeting thinking there was bias and lack of objectivity” in the inspector general’s report and that “we left that meeting knowing that there was bias and lack of objectivity in that report.”
Normally, gubernatorial staffers are neither seen nor heard in public forums. Mercer apparently didn’t get that memo.
He won’t be the last member of the administration who will have to answer questions about what’s going on with the Parole Board — and why he and, it seems, Moran, are “interrogating” investigators.
In other circumstances and other times, Mercer, former Parole Board chair (and now Judge) Adrianne Bennett and a growing cast of supporting players would be answering questions before the General Assembly. Two state senators, Republican Bryce E. Reeves (Spotsylvania) and Democrat John L. Bell (Loudoun), sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke) requesting he create a special committee to investigate the matter.
It appears senior Democratic lawmakers have neither the will nor the desire to do so. It’s an election year, after all, and an investigation would only boost Republican fortunes in November.
Is it the Office of the State Inspector General? Mercer says it’s biased and unreliable. Plus, the inspector general’s office is conducting its own bizarre hunt for the whistleblower who leaked the damning 13-page draft report on the Parole Board’s actions.
So the inspector general’s office is out. Maybe the state police? They are currently carrying out the IG’s whistleblower hunt. An independent prosecutor? Perhaps. But then the question is who appoints such an investigator? The Attorney General’s Office? Northam’s office? Both are entwined in the Parole Board story, so they have conflicts. The state courts? Possibly.
Or maybe this gets settled at the polls in November. Politics does have the unique ability to put an intense spotlight on the politicians involved in a scandal.
That includes Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe appointed Adrianne Bennett to chair the Parole Board in 2017. His reasoning: He wanted someone who would “make sure that we are moving expeditiously on these parole hearings.”
Does McAuliffe think Bennett acted properly in the Vincent Martin parole case or the other cases mentioned in the inspector general’s draft report? Does McAuliffe agree with Northam that there should be an independent investigation of the board’s actions? If yes, who should lead it? If no, does he agree with Mercer that the inspector general’s report is hopelessly biased and should be dismissed out of hand?
Others will have to answer questions, including every other member of the Democratic field of candidates seeking the party’s nomination for the state’s top three posts.
Do they believe there should be an independent investigation into the Parole Board scandal? If yes, who should lead it? If no, then do they, too, think there’s nothing to see here?
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