(The Center Square) – Some Virginia Republicans have expressed concern over the attorney general's role in an upcoming investigation into a report that accused the parole board of illegal and unethical activity.
The Office of the State Inspector General penned a report that accused the board of ignoring laws and policies when determining the release of certain prisoners. It alleged that the board failed to keep records of minutes, failed to properly notify the victims of families regarding the release of inmates and selectively chose witnesses that would speak favorably of the release of a prisoner into parole.
A version of the report was leaked to the media last year and then an earlier draft of the report, which contained more aggressive allegations of illegal activity, was subsequently also released to the media. Gov. Ralph Northam called for an investigation into the OSIG report, but not specifically into the activities of the board.
The Northam administration, along with other Democrats, have accused the report of being politically motivated and containing unverified information. The OSIG, which is a the official government watchdog, has stood by its report and had run the findings past an attorney before finalizing it. The board has also denied the report’s allegations.
Republicans have criticized the administration for launching an investigation that focuses on the OSIG and not the actions of the board. Lawmakers in the party have also begun to criticize the attorney general’s role in the investigatory process. The attorney general is Democrat Mark Herring.
In a hiring letter from the attorney general's office, all work product from the investigation shall constitute a confidential work product of the office of the attorney general, with the exception of the final report. All files shall be sent to the attorney general during the investigation upon request from the office, but shall not be released to the public without express written approval from the office.
Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, expressed concern about the transparency of the process.
"The fact that the Attorney General's office was giving advice to both the Parole Board and the Office of State Inspector General while the initial investigation was ongoing was bad enough,” Shipley said. “But [the] fact that the work product of this 'investigation' will belong only to that same Attorney General's office is troubling. Virginians want transparency, not more of the cover-up. That's why this investigation should be undertaken by the General Assembly in full view of the public."
Republicans in the House and the Senate have expressed support for legislative involvement in an investigation, rather than giving control to the executive branch, which they believe has political incentive in protecting the board. In leaked audio from a meeting between administration officials and the OSIG, members of the Northam administration had expressed concern about the political damage caused to Democrats by the report.
Herring’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square, but his office told The Virginia Mercury that the office only expects to be involved in handling the billing and the final report will consist of findings from the independent investigation.