House speaker questions legality of recent McAuliffe appointments

Posted at 11:37 AM, Sep 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-22 18:41:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R - Stafford) has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for guidance regarding the legality of three recent appointments made by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. In a letter sent last week, Howell told Holder the inquiry was made in light of the ongoing federal investigation into the resignation of State Senator Phil Puckett (D – Russell).

"As you may be aware, two of our House colleagues and a Senator resigned from the Legislature and were almost immediately appointed by Governor McAuliffe to paid state positions," Howell wrote. "The General Assembly must approve these appointments for them to take effect. Our dilemma is that if we approve these recent appointments at the Governor's request, the U.S. Department of Justice may conclude that we aided or facilitated a violation of federal law. Moreover, given this uncertainty, we would be doing a disservice to our colleagues if we were to act and potentially ensnare them in a federal criminal investigation. I, therefore, will not bring these appointments to a vote before the House of Delegates until you assure us it is proper.”

Brian Coy, a spokesman with the Governor's office issued this statement:

“The Governor agrees with Speaker Howell’s statement that the appointment of these qualified public servants is ‘legal and appropriate.’ The Speaker’s desire to deflect attention away from an ongoing scandal involving a member of his own caucus is understandable, but using qualified appointees as political pawns is the wrong approach.”

The Department of Justice declined to comment when asked by CBS 6 Monday.

Earlier this year, Governor McAuliffe appointed former Delegate Algie Howell to the Parole Board, Delegate Bob Brink as the Deputy Commissioner for Aging Services and State Senator Henry Marsh to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board within days of their resignations.

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CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George asked the governor about the appointments shortly after they were made.

"For the average person on the street it looks a little unethical governor," St. George asked.

"Well listen you want experience in state government,"  the governor responded.

"Did they speak to you about the job or did you speak to them?" St. George asked.

"They may have talked to folks in my administration – it doesn’t mater who talked to who, you want the best people in state government," McAuliffe said.

In June, Virginia State Senator Phillip Puckett (D – Russell) announced his sudden resignation from the General Assembly. A move that cleared the way for his daughter to gain approval as a judge and Puckett a job on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Democrats viewed the move as Puckett selling out his party because the resignation gave state Republicans a majority in the Virginia Senate, making it difficult for McAuliffe to move forward with his plan to expand Medicaid coverage in Virginia.

Federal investigators have looked in to the Puckett resignation, however results of their findings have not yet been released.

"I have no doubt that these appointments are legal and appropriate, and I have no reservations about the qualifications or capability of these gentlemen," Howell said. "However, as I said in the letter, I am deeply concerned that by confirming these appointments, the House of Delegates may be aiding or facilitating a violation of federal law. The House of Delegates will not act on these appointments until we receive confirmation from the Justice Department that they are proper.”