The Virginia State Inspector General has the authority to directly question Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in his investigation into AG office's role in a dispute over gas royalties in Southwest Virginia.
However, Michael F.A. Morehart would not say if he plans to sit down with Cuccinelli specifically to discuss the case.
(Inspector General Morehart is a former FBI agent)
Last week Cuccinelli told me that he welcomed the IG probe into the case which pits Virginia landowners against energy companies in a dispute over who benefits from gas beds under private property.
The Attorney General has been criticized because Senior Assistant Sharon Pigeon communicated with defendants EQT Production and CNX Gas in a way that a magistrate judge reviewing the matter has expressed concern over. Cuccinelli has defended Pigeon and said that her communications were based only on the shared concern by the energy companies and the Attorney General's office over a challenge to the Virginia Gas and Oil Act.
Morehart said Tuesday that his investigation continues and that he could not put a timeline on how long it may last. Democrats have argued that despite how hard Morehart may work to uncover wrongdoing, his review won't be complete because the statute that created the Inspector General's office prohibits the direct investigation into constitutionally elected leaders. In order for the IG to investigate Cuccinelli himself, he would need approval from Cuccinelli, the Governor or a Grand Jury.
"Ken Cuccinelli has to recognize the unacceptable conflict of interest that stems from him being one of the only people empowered to call for an investigation into his own actions," said Democratic Party of Virginia Spokesperson Brian Coy. "'Just trust me' isn’t enough for Virginians who deserve to know if their Attorney General used their tax dollars to benefit a campaign donor in a lawsuit against Virginia families."
Cuccinelli's campaign has received more than $100 thousand in contributions from CONSOL energy, the parent company of the two groups involved in the dispute.
But the Attorney General argues that while he may not be the target of the investigation, there is nothing in his office pertaining to the case that Morehart won't have access to.
"There is no reason to (investigate the Attorney General specifically), your describing emails to an attorney because there were e-mails to one attorney," he said. "If anything broaden beyond that he has the authority to go beyond that."
Brian Gottstein, a spokesperson for the office of the Attorney General confirmed that the authority could include the direct questioning of Cuccinelli himself.
"He (the Inspector General) does not need the AG's permission to ask the AG questions during his review," Gottstein said. "The IG law treats the AG's office the same as any other agency of state government."
Morehart confirmed that he does have that right to question Cuccinelli. He would not even hint if he plans to directly involve him in the inquiry.
Democrats contend that Cuccinelli should request a separate investigation into just his actions related to this case. The Attorney General told me that wouldn't be necessary.
"I think the legal function played was entirely appropriate, it was the defense of the Virginia statute, I assume the report will reflect that," he said.
Gottstein said the AG's office is complying completely with the Inspector General.
"The law gives the inspector general the authority to conduct a complete review of this office, to examine any documents, and to ask any questions – even about the attorney general – without the attorney general’s permission," Gottstein said. "Moreover, from the beginning, the attorney general has instructed his staff to fully comply with the IG in his review."
The question remains- will that resolution come before or after election day? With no sign that the IG's report will come before Labor Day, any release prior November could play a big role in the ultimate vote.