Virginia’s inspector general is officially investigating the attorney general office’s role in a federal lawsuit over natural gas royalties and whether a staff member gave advice to energy company lawyers.
The Bristol Herald Courier reported Tuesday the investigation was underway after the matter caught a federal judge’s eye in June.
Officials are investigating a series of emails from a deputy attorney general under Ken Cuccinelli — the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in Virginia's 2013 elections — that appear to advise legal teams for Pennsylvania energy companies CONSOL Energy and EQT Production. The two companies are currently tied up in a lawsuit with Southwest Virginia families who say they let the companies mine natural gas on their land but “haven’t seen one penny” for it.
Cuccinelli, who is also deep into an increasingly nasty race for governor, says his office followed protocol.
“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,” Cuccinelli said in a statement Tuesday. “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."
While there’s no telling how long the investigation will last, the Herald Courier reports officials will determine whether there was a breach of ethics, if criminal charges should be pursued, or if nothing illegal occurred.
But that’s not stopping Democrats from questioning Cuccinelli’s ethics in an attempt to give Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe a boost going into the Nov. 5 election.
Democrats already released an ad in July trying to discredit Cuccinelli for accepting $100,000 in campaign contributions from CONSOL.
McAuliffe released a statement Tuesday after hearing the news of the investigation, calling on Cuccinelli to recuse himself from the 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,” McAuliffe said. “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."
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