FILE - Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain

Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg

(The Center Square) – Virginia Senate Republicans are raising questions about the objectivity of the investigation into a report that alleged illegal and unethical activities by the state parole board.

The Office of the State Inspector General issued a report that accused the board of ignoring laws and policies in its determination of the release of certain prisoners. The OSIG, which is the official government watchdog, accused the board of failing to keep records of minutes, failing to notify the families of victims regarding the release of inmates and selectively choosing witnesses who would speak favorably of the prisoner getting parole.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration claimed the report sounded politically motivated and ordered an investigation into the report. The investigation’s narrow scope was criticized by Republicans, because rather than launching an investigation of the board, it launches an investigation into the OSIG. Republicans are now calling into question the objectivity of the investigators hired by the office of Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring.

The attorney general’s office contracted with Nixon Peabody, LLP, which chose Travis Hill to lead the investigation. Senate Republicans are questioning Hill’s objectivity because he served as a political appointee for multiple Democratic attorneys general in New York. They also objected to the firm’s political donations: about 89% of contributions from the organization and its members went to Democrats in 2020 federal elections and about 11% went to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.

“Nobody should be surprised by this selection,” Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

“The team hired by Mark Herring is led by a lawyer only months removed from his employment as a senior official in the New York Attorney General’s office where he worked for three of the most liberal Attorneys General in America,” Obenshain said. “The lead attorney just slid out of the Attorney General’s office and into a lucrative and clubby Attorney General’s practice where he has now landed this project for another Democrat Attorney General. Just like everything else related to this scandal, this smells rotten. This engagement shows that this so-called investigation is nothing but an expensive exercise in political back scratching.”

The organization itself only donated to four candidates: three Republican and one Democrat. All other contributions were from individuals.

Herring’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square.

Republicans have also criticized the attorney general’s role in the investigation: all work product, except for the final report, from the investigation will be sent to Herring’s office upon request and cannot be released to the public without the office’s approval. The final report will be sent to lawmakers in both parties. Herring’s office has said it intends its role in the investigation to only be billing. Republicans in both chambers have asked for legislative input into a broader investigation that would look into the activities of the parole board.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.