‘You’re being used as a political tool:’ Recording details Northam officials’ grilling of watchdog agency

‘You’re being used as a political tool:’ Recording details Northam officials’ grilling of watchdog agency
The offices of the Virginia Parole Board in Richmond. (Source: Virginia Mercury)

When top aides to Gov. Ralph Northam sat down last summer to meet with the state inspector general, whose office had just issued a critical watchdog report on the Virginia Parole Board, Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer opened by saying he wanted to hear what was being done to prevent future reports from “getting forwarded to the Associated Press again.”

Republican General Assembly leaders had just given media outlets an unredacted copy of a report accusing the Parole Board of mishandling the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer but won praise as a model inmate. Before that, the inspector general had only released an unreadable version with virtually every sentence blacked-out, citing an interpretation of confidentiality laws disputed by open-government advocates.

Mercer said he was hoping for a “collegial” discussion of what had happened and the aspects of the report that were in dispute.

An audio recording of that meeting obtained by The Virginia Mercury sheds new light on a yearlong controversy that has roiled Virginia government heading into this year’s House of Delegates and gubernatorial elections, revealing a brass tacks back-and-forth between investigators convinced they had identified a pattern of wrongdoing by the Parole Board and Northam officials questioning the merits of the findings and determined to prevent more sensitive information from getting out to their critics and the media.