By Brandon Jarvis

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert is calling for a special session to investigate Virginia’s Parole Board and the scandal surrounding it. 

“If Governor Northam takes seriously his responsibility to see that the laws are faithfully executed, he will call the General Assembly back for a Special Session and ask for a legislative review of this entire fiasco,” Leader Gilbert said Monday.

This comes on the heels of an hour-long recording that was recently published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Mercury from a meeting that took place last August between Governor Northam’s top staff and the Inspector General, Micheal Westfall. Westfall is tasked with investigating the executive branch, including the Parole Board, which is at the center of controversy after they allegedly broke protocol several times when releasing incarcerated individuals for parole. 

The most notorious moment in the scandal revolves around the release of Vincent Martin, the man that killed a Richmond police officer in 1979. Martin was released on parole in 2020, but the controversy surrounding the Parole Board’s handling of his case has been an ongoing controversy. 

According to documents provided to WTVR, an Office of the Inspector General (OSIG) investigation of the Parole Board in July included “allegations that the former chair, Adrianne Bennett, asked at least two employees to falsify a report and violate their own ethics.”

WTVR continued to report, “[Westfall] said that in March 2020, Bennett asked a hearing examiner to falsify a report, by making it appear as their own, within Martin’s case file.” 

In the recorded-August meeting, the governor’s staff can be heard telling Westfall that he is being used as a political tool by the Republicans — Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer also asked Westfall if he was going to investigate Republicans for releasing the details of the investigation into the Vincent Martin case last year. 

The allegations and the potential investigation into the release of documents around the Martin case have remained a key talking point for Republicans.  

Gilbert and House Republicans have no faith in a $250,000 budget amendment that the General Assembly recently approved to fund a narrowly scoped investigation around the release of Martin. “The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board,” Gilbert said in a statement Monday. 

Republican leaders say that the investigation is only looking into how OSIG investigated the Parole Board and not an investigation of the actual board members and their actions. “That’s why the ‘investigation’ authorized by the Governor’s budget amendment doesn’t touch the Parole Board. It’s not an investigation, it’s retribution against the Inspector General for having the temerity to do his job,” Gilbert said Monday. 

The language in the amendment supports that statement from Gilbert — with it written on Virginia’s Legislative Information System as money “to fund a third-party investigation of the Office of the State Inspector General’s policies, processes, and procedures employed during its handling of the Vincent Martin matter.” 

Kunal Atit, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn says the authorized investigation will be fair and independent keeping it clear of politicians. “The investigatory framework passed by the House and Senate provides for a fair, thorough, and independent investigation free from partisan influence and with a definitive timeline in which Virginians will receive answers,” he said Monday. “While House Republicans want to get politicians involved and turn this into a political circus it is our belief that a serious investigation should be handled by professional investigators.”

Governor Northam’s office has not responded to requests for comment. He has called two special sessions in the past year, once in the fall of 2020 to pass a slate of criminal justice reforms and to readjust the budget due to COVID-19, and once this year to extend the regular session 15 additional days. 

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By vascope

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