Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli held an event Tuesday morning designed to roll out his education plan at the Maggie Walker Governor's School in Richmond.
After a lengthy event where outlined his proposal, Cuccinelli took questions on education from reporters for roughly four minutes. When the questions on education were over, the assembled press corp attempted to ask the GOP candidate for Governor about the report from the Bristol Herald Courier that his office was under investigation by the Inspector General over their handling of a gas royalty case in Southwest Virginia.
Here is a portion of that report from Michael Owens:
Virginia’s state inspector general is still investigating whether an attorney general staffer wrongfully advised energy company lawyers in an ongoing federal court battle with regional landowners seeking natural gas royalties.
It could take months to wrap up the investigation, initially called for by a state legislator in June after a federal magistrate judge voiced shock over emails between the staffer and lawyers for Pittsburgh-based CONSOL Energy and EQT Production.
“There is no timetable,” State Inspector General Michael F. A. Morehart told the Bristol Herald Courier on Monday.
The investigation could end with a wide range of possible findings – from no wrongdoing, to a breach of ethics, or even a call for criminal charges.
At the heart of the investigation are five emails in which AG staffer Sharon Pigeon seems to offer legal advice on how the lawyers should fight a series of three-year-old lawsuits seeking at least $28 million in natural gas royalties now tied up in state-mandated escrow accounts.
Pigeon is also the state’s legal adviser to the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, the state agency that permits energy companies to siphon the natural gas below multiple tracts of land before anyone has decided who owns the gas. The board also makes sure the royalties belonging to the undetermined owners are then placed in the escrow accounts for future legal dispute.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has maintained that his office’s involvement in the case is limited to any challenge against the constitutionality of state laws and he sent staffers to defend Virginia law in some of the federal hearings.
Cuccinelli has maintained that his office was just doing it's job, but when pressed by reporters at this morning's event (the first time he was available to the press since the story broke) the Attorney General chose not to comment.
Here is the video of his interaction with reporters.
Cuccinelli told reporters that he has repeatedly answered off topic questions at any number of press gaggles after events where he was rolling out substantive policy initiatives. He said that everyone has complained about "negative" campaigning and this event was about a substantive, positive policy initiative.
Later his campaign released a statement from Cuccinelli that welcomed the IG's probe into the Southwest Virginia gas royalty dispute.
Democrats quickly pounced. Cuccinelli's opponent Terry McAuliffe called on Cuccinelli to immediatley remove his office from the case.
"We're glad the Inspector General's Office has been looking into this case because they're going to find that our office acted appropriately. We've been cooperating with the IG at every step of the way. One of the main functions of the attorney general's office is to defend Virginia statutes from legal challenges and that's exactly what we've done in that case."- Ken Cuccinelli
"News today that the Inspector General is investigating Ken Cuccinelli for his role in helping out-of-state energy companies against Virginia landowners is confirmation of a disturbing trend in the Attorney General’s office. Whether it is Bobby Thompson, Jonnie Williams or out-of-state energy companies, Ken Cuccinelli has led one of the most conflicted and scandal plagued Attorney General’s offices in recent memory. A federal judge already said that she was “shocked” at the conduct of the Attorney General’s office in this case.
"While this investigation is ongoing, the Attorney General should immediately recuse himself and his office from all matters involving the dispute between energy companies and landowners as well as all matters before the Oil and Gas Board. It is completely inappropriate that Cuccinelli continues his role in the case despite being under investigation for his conduct.
"Southwest Virginia landowners deserve to be paid what they are owed."- Terry McAuliffe
Not long after the event- where Cuccinelli criticized the focus on the negative aspect of the campaign and touted the release of a positive ad- his campaign dropped a new attack ad directed at McAuliffe's connection to the investigation into his former company GreenTech.
The full press gaggle with the questions on his proposal can be found below: