Virginia

The Embarrassing Political Grandstanding of Ken Cuccinelli

If conservative hero Cuccinelli loses his bid for the Virginia governorship, he may have only himself to blame.

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If Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli loses his bid for governor, one contributing factor may be the standard he himself brought about.

In his campaign book The Last Line of Defense, Cuccinelli quite correctly rails against those who "feel the meanings of the words in the Constitution are 'elastic' " and therefore ignore the Founders' original intent in pursuit of their own political objectives. The principal subject of his ire is the Affordable Care Act; he sued to overturn that law to stop its "overreach" and undo "a power that could just as easily be used for not-so-altruistic purposes down the road."

So far so good. Yet in one of those ironies that make politics such entertaining drama, it now appears that Cuccinelli's own overreaching may come back to haunt him.

Three years ago, the attorney general launched an investigation of climatologist Michael Mann. This considerably raised Cuccinelli's stock among movement conservatives who consider global warming a communist plot.

The attorney general, however, claimed to be concerned about possible fraud. His argument: that Mann might have obtained grants by relying on work he knew to be bogus. In pursuit of that proposition, Cuccinelli demanded copies of emails Mann wrote while employed by the University of Virginia. This was not long after the Climategate scandal broke, and Cuccinelli may have been trying to replicate it.

To pry the emails loose, Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand, hanging his hat on Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (FATA). Among other things, that statute – like other parts of the Code of Virginia – protects whistleblowers from retaliation. The trouble was that using FATA against Mann required a remarkably elastic interpretation of the law. Essentially, Cuccinelli argued that (1) Mann took state money, and (2) Mann's work has been questioned by others, therefore (3) the state could investigate whether Mann had perpetrated a fraud. On that basis, you could investigate nearly any academic who does original research.

As one of the courts that ruled against Cuccinelli noted, the attorney general could not identify the precise nature of the conduct that constituted the putative fraud. After all, Mann did the work for which he was paid; it's not as if he spent his grant money on hookers and booze. And, in fact, Cuccinelli went so far as to say he was not alleging any wrongful conduct at all. He was, he said, "simply trying to . . . determine whether or not fraud had been committed." Bet he can get you a great deal on a bridge in Brooklyn, too.

Now the attorney general has been caught up in the furor surrounding Star Scientific CEO and political benefactor Jonnie Williams. The company is fighting the state over tax bills. Cuccinelli belatedly recused himself from the case after word got out that he held stock in Star Scientific and had taken gifts from Williams.

The other day Mark Herring, a Democrat running for attorney general, asked federal authorities to investigate ties between Williams and both Cuccinelli and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli's campaign denounced the request as a political stunt – which it surely is. But it is no more a stunt than the one Cuccinelli pulled investigating Mann, for it relies on precisely the same rationale. Just as Cuccinelli said he merely wanted to find out "whether or not fraud had been committed," Herring says the people of Virginia deserve to know "if any laws were broken."

Last week yet another wrinkle developed. Todd Schneider, the former Executive Mansion chef, faces embezzlement charges – originally brought by Cuccinelli – based on allegations that he took food from the mansion for his personal catering business. Schneider's attorneys contend Schneider is a whistleblower who had related to the attorney general and the State Police information about wrongdoing by McDonnell and his wife Maureen, and their relationship with Star Scientific's Williams.

The motion to dismiss the charges against Schneider notes that Cuccinelli has asked to withdraw from that case because of his own "conflicting personal, financial, and political interests." Cuccinelli's ties to Williams, says the Schneider motion, "created an incentive to prosecute Todd Schneider to compromise him and his credibility as a potential witness in any civil or criminal proceeding that might result against Jonnie Williams or the McDonnells."

This is an explosive implication. If true, it would mean that Cuccinelli, having ignored the original intent of FATA, also might have failed to protect a whistleblower – thereby ignoring the intent of another state law for the sake of his own "not-so-altruistic purposes."

But only "might" – the law does not protect whistleblowers from legitimate prosecution for actual lawbreaking. Besides, defense lawyers can make all kinds of wild claims. The public has no reason or evidence to believe Schneider's assertions. Yet according to the elastic precedent the attorney general set down in the Mann case, one need not contend or even think Cuccinelli did anything wrong in order to ask "whether or not" he did.

As Virginia's gubernatorial race proceeds, you can be sure that Democrats will.

This article originally appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. As Hinkle implies, there’s nothing in this article proving that the charges against Cuccinelli are true. I suppose that is the point – just as KC investigated Mann without proper cause, the Dems are accusing him without proper cause.

    But the bottom line question is whether KC is better qualified than his opponent(s), and I see nothing indicating that he’s not. In fact, a defeat for him will be spun as a rebuke to his “divisive” campaign against Obamacare and EPA overreach, and in general as a setback for the Tea Party and in favor of progressivism.

    Is that a price worth paying in order to score points against his Mann investigation?

    1. Lets not forget that Terry Mcauliffe is one of the most awful human beings and crooked people ever to enter politics. Mcauliffe really has never made an honest dollar in his life or done anything that wasn’t about him stealing from the public.

      I don’t care if Cuccinelli believes in exorcism and plans to conduct them in the governor’s mansion, he is a better choice than Mcauliffe

      1. Lets not forget that Terry Mcauliffe is one of the most awful human beings and crooked people ever to enter politics.

        Actually, I think he’s pretty average for a politician. He hasn’t killed anyone (that we know of), so I hesitate to put him in the “one of the most awful” category.

        Still, I hope he loses horribly to someone other than Ken Cuccinelli.

      2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringin home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, http://www.Mojo50.com

    2. As Hinkle implies,

      Give it a rest, anonobot.

      1. When Betty said she’d made $100,000 with her lap top I said, “wow, I had no idea computer careers were so well-paid,” and she replied, “you naive fool, you think that’s what I meant by ‘laptop’?”

    3. Besides the Mann nonsense, there is the problem of Cuccinelli hating on gays and all immigrants. From wikipedia: “Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion authorizing law enforcement officials to investigate the immigration status of anyone that they have stopped”.

      1. Here is that infamous opinion:

        http://www.oag.state.va.us/Opinions and Legal Resources/Opinions/2010opns/10-047-Marshall.pdf

        It doesn’t seem all that shocking to me. It doesn’t say Va cops can *arrest* foreigners for immigration violations (except federal immigration crimes, as opposed to civil violations); it says they can *ask ICE* about immigration status.

        The opinion points to an analagous situation: cops *must* inquire, when necessary, about a detainee’s nationality, so that they can inform the consul *as required by treaty.* So it’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell that would be illegal, not making inquiries.

        “hating on gays”

        I don’t think this means anything beyond “doesn’t share the recent epiphany of the Democratic Party, and some Republicans, about the urgency of gay rights.” If gay rights is your issue, you should probably go Dem.

        1. Link failed, try this:

          http://bit.ly/10CqHYa

        2. Re immigration: You give a perfect description of the new version of driving while black.

          Re gay rights: it is not my issue, but it is an issue. Rights in general, be they religious freedom, sexual freedom, economic freedom, … As a whole they are my issue.

          Sadly, neither of these jerks look like they are going to get my vote, which probably does not bode well for Cuccinelli.

          1. sexual freedom

            When will we finally unlock the chains and call off the dogs that we have put on gay people’s genitals?

  2. Cucinelli’s jeremiad against Mann did have one really bizarre outcome, it exempted U VA from FOIA on really specious grounds.

    It was stupid and pointless. The scientific method essentially depends on communication and reproducibility of experiments/calculations. If one considers Michael Mann’s conduct with respect to those qualities, he’s an awful scientist, and it shows. You don’t need to look at his private papers to see that he doesn’t understand statistics, misuses PCA, and is very sloppy in his data management. It’s all out there in the open.

    Is he guilty of scientific misconduct? He sure acts like he has some embarrassing secret in his papers – there’s a libel suit in Canada where he is fighting discovery like a cornered chihuahua. Certainly his oft repeated lie about McIntrye and the corrupt excel file shows him to be an utterly dishonest and unprincipled man and could be treated as misconduct.

    But in the end, the scientific method is a method to weed out such misconduct, to identify truth, and it requires no publishing of private papers to do its work. Cucinelli’s grandstanding has been a very annoying, unhelpful distraction to the whole fiasco.

    1. This. Bad science is always eventually found out. It’s always nice to see people drawing attention to bad science, but this particular case should have been left to the climatology community and journalists in general. Even if those groups drag their feet eventually the truth will come out.

      1. “Bad science is always eventually found out.”

        I certainly don’t buy this, and even if it is true, I would rather it be found out before we make policy based on it.

  3. Falsifying data is most definitely academic and scientific fraud. Cuccinelli was correct: Mann is a con artist, a charlatan, a liar, and a stealer of taxpayer money.

    And he’s going to kick McAuliffe’s teeth out of his head in the election.

    1. if so, the Post editorial board might just have a stroke. that’s worth a vote.

    2. The politicians who gave Mann his grants are the thieves.

  4. Point of Order!

    The VA AG must always be referred to as The Cooch in print.

    1. I can live with that, but I favor Cooch over McAwful any day.

      1. Me too. Guns are my “fuck you” issue, and I won’t trust a carpetbagging shitstick like McAuliffe on guns.

        1. that guy gives political hacks a bad name.

          1. But is he a worse hack than Jim Moran? Moran is the gold standard in my book. The “Moran” should be the unit for political hackery. McAuliffe is riding at about 0.8 Morans, but with great potential to improve as the campaign ramps up.

  5. this govenor’s race is going to be the death of me at least when i voted for Mcdonnell i could say he wanted to privatize liquor. So its either Cucinelli or literally the living embodiment of everything wrong with politics in Mcauliffe whose closet is probably as large as Arlington cemetery.

    1. I know this might sound crazy, but you could always not vote.

      1. Eh honestly….if McDonnell could run for reelection, I’d vote for him. He’s great on guns, decent on taxes, and very surprisingly has been active in restoring rights to former prisoners.

        He’s really not a terrible governor.

        1. “….if McDonnell could run for reelection,..”

          Term limits are good. Everyone knows that voters should not be free to cast a ballot for the candidates of their choice because they are just too stupid to make that decision for themselves.
          Restricting electors political freedom is a great idea!

          1. Eh, but most of them are really shitty and it’s great to be rid of them.

            VA has a good compromise. McDonnell can sit out for four years, then run again if he wishes.

            The real reason VA is a good state in the sense of fairly limited government is that the Assembly is not a full time job. Not as great as Texas, where they only meet once every two years.

            1. Like I said: “Restricting electors political freedom is a great idea!”

              1. Can’t tell if you like or hate term limits. Either way, any political system is going to restrict electors’ political freedom in some way.

              2. O noes! I can’t vote for anybody I want! They hold elections only once a year! Restricting mai freedomz!

            2. Not a huge fan of the Virginia non-consecutive governorship term limits. If nothing else, it gave us Tim Kaine when people clearly wanted to vote for Warner.

      2. I can’t in good consciousness bitch about the state of things without actively participating in the decline, my civic duty won’t abide.

  6. In other breaking news, lawyers – especially public prosecutors – have been found to be unscrupulous assholes to each other and everybody else.

  7. I still find it kind of amazing I guy I was in junior high with is about to be governor of Virginia.

    1. I dunno? You and 1500 other people. Now if you said, “I still find it kind of amazing a guy I slept with in junior high is about to be governor of Virginia.” Now that would be kinda amazing.

      1. More amazing: “I still find it kind of amazing a guy I slept with when he was in Junior High is about to be governor of Virginia”

  8. It’s definitely a bad-versus-worse kind of election. Don’t like the Cooch, but Terry McAuliffe really is the living personification of everything horrible about contemporary American politics – a slimy, crooked, corrupt, dishonest, thieving piece of shit. A “businessman” who’s never actually had any success in business yet has magically become fabulously wealthy through graft bestowed upon him by his politician buddies. I will definitely go out of my way to vote against McAuliffe. Anything bad you can say about Cooch, and there is plenty, you can multiply by ten and say about McAuliffe.

    And there will be a certain amount of amusement to be derived from the anguish his election would visit upon asshole west Richmond hipsters, so I’ll have that going for me.

  9. I wonder how much actual harm McAuliffe could do as governor, considering his term as DNC chairman. His rush to force an early front-runner in the 2004 primaries gave us George W. Bush’s own fraternity brother as the Democratic nominee, so that’s hardly a success story for advancing a progressive agenda.

  10. This creep’s barratry wastes scientists time at public expense. A common scold as well, he has also catered to the booboisie by slapping a brassiere on the figure of Liberty on the Great Seal of the State of Virginia.

    1. When did he pull an Ashcroft?

      And it is Mann who is wasting public money with his bad science. I wish more AGs would investigate the misuse of public funds that often occurs under the guise of science.

      1. I admit I’m not familiar with the details of this case, or with Va law, so maybe better-informed people can enlighten me:

        When other climate researchers were caught with their pants down in arguably fraudulent behavior, and when there were concerns about Mann’s research, did the Virginia AG have a basis to conduct a fraud investigation?

        As for the self-correcting tendencies of the scientific method, this presumes people willing to repeat the research of others, as opposed to the more lucrative method of doing their own research. Haven’t there been enough scientific-fraud scandals to warrant at least the assumption that it’s legitimate to investigate tax-funded research when there are red flags?

      2. When the Editors of Nature called Mann to task for questionable data splices — a hazard of the course in the apples and oranges world of palaeoclimate by proxy, he answered their questions candidly and published a corrigendum- a modest example of science as a self correcting process.

        A decade later , the contrarians are still trying to equate the episode, ceteris partibus, with the whole process of trying to figure out past climate, a response disproportionate to the point of obsession, that does a disservice to those who began wrestling with the politicization of science long before- it is not a problem thatis going to be solved by an unholy alliance of oil patch mining statisticians and The Discovery Institute.

    2. So because the Scientists are funded by the taxpayers, questioning their efforts constitutes a waste of taxpayer expense?

      What is the problem here? Can someone not in the tank for one of the candidates explain to me?

  11. I’m a bit confused here. Maybe someone can do a bit to clarify. If Mann was receiving payment from the State of Virginia for his research work, why SHOULDN’T the State of Virginia have access to his work papers? That honestly strikes me as a legitimate expectation, one that certainly applies in private industry.

    1. Because RETHUGLICANS ARE ANTI SCIENCE!!!!!!

      Basically, that’s what it boils down to. If it was a Democratic AG investigating a scientist for skeptical AGW research, then said Democratic AG would be a crusader for the public interest, zealously guarding against wasteful expenditure.

      You take my money to do your science projects, I have a right to your notes. Don’t like it? Too fucking bad.

      1. Couldn’t agree more. I just expected better logic from a Reason contributor. This strikes me as genuinely sloppy reasoning (no pun intended) on Hinkle’s part (although, to be fair, he doesn’t explicitly make such an argument). If Mann were an employee of a private company, there’d be no question whatsoever that his e-mails, his lab notes, everything, would be company property subject to audit and review by management. Regardless of his politics, it seems bizarre to grant Mann or any other academic an exemption from what should be a fairly straightforward workplace rule.

  12. All of this stuff is really just wonk theater. The contest is nothing more than “free shit” versus “lock ’em all up”. Is there a Libertarian candidate running this year? The Virginia LP never seems to have much going on, since everyone around here wants to get a slice of Government Cheese, one way or another.

    1. Eh, I thought McDonnell would be a lock em all up guy, but he turned out to be the opposite. The Cooch could turn out the same way.

  13. “On that basis, you could investigate nearly any academic who does original research.”

    As an academic researcher, I have no problem with this. Hey academes, quit taking public money.

    1. I agree completely. Is the Libertarian argument here that academics, by virtue of being Academics, ought not be accountable to how they spend taxpayer dollars?

      It isn’t as though colleges and universities have dollars forced on them.

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