One month ago, Gov. Bob McDonnell walked out of federal court, trying to regain his composure. A jury just convicted the former governor and his wife Maureen McDonnell of performing official acts in exchange for more than $177,000 in gifts and loans.
Now, a possible quid pro quo scandal could involve Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan.
After the story first broke late Thursday in the Washington Post, Reagan said Friday he was "overzealous and acted with poor judgment," when he left a voicemail for State Sen. Philip P. Puckett, and seemed to promise a high-level job for Puckett's daughter.
In exchange, Reagan said the governor needed Puckett's help.
Puckett was thinking of resigning in late May, a move that would put Republicans in control of the General Assembly, and end McAuliffe's top priority to expand Medicaid.
But in a transcript of a voicemail obtained by the Post, Reagan said his office would help Puckett's daughter, if Puckett did not resign.
“We have a couple of big agencies here that we still need agency heads,” Reagan said in the voicemail. “We, we would basically do anything... We need you for the rest of your term and beyond.”
In context, Republicans are accused of trying to get Puckett to resign, at the exact same time. The FBI has been investigating whether Republican lawmakers improperly offered Puckett a position at the Virginia Tobacco Commission, a job Puckett ultimately declined after his Senate resignation.
Although Reagan's voicemail and its transcript are now in the open, NBC12 Legal Analyst Steven D. Benjamin said in an interview Friday that investigators still need to determine if there was an intent to influence Puckett.
“It clearly appears to us in the public that a job was offered, in exchange for what might have been an official act,” Benjamin said. “But what we don't know is whether that was met, what was intended. We don't know the surrounding circumstances.”
“The focus of the crime isn't that it's an express agreement, or that it's contained in an email or a text. The crime is, the manner in which someone is influenced.”
Reagan said Friday he left the message because of the fight to expand health care to around 400,000 uninsured Virginians, a fight ultimately defeated two weeks ago in the General Assembly.
“I certainly regret this and will always try to achieve the high standards demanded by Governor McAuliffe,” Reagan said.
Gov. McAuliffe stressed Friday Reagan never formally offered a position, and no further conversations about the topic ever occurred.
The discussion centered on Puckett and his daughter, Martha Puckett Ketron, because the Virginia Senate had been unable to appoint Ketron to a job she had long sought – a permanent position as a District Court judge. Senators are not allowed to appoint family members under the chamber’s anti-nepotism rules.
“Out of his concern that certain legislators were holding a qualified nominee hostage in order to force Phil Puckett from the Senate, Mr. Reagan acted on his own to inform the Senator that there were other available opportunities for which his daughter might apply,” McAuliffe said.