Political Analysis: The Northam Investigation Ends, Warner Seeks To Punish Foreign Disclosure Failures, Cuccinelli Joins Trump Admin
Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include: the results of the investigation into Governor Ralph Northam's racist yearbook photo, Senator Mark Warner introduces legislation for foreign contact disclosure, Virginia Congressman Don Beyer calls for impeachment of President Trump, and former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joins the Trump administration to guide immigration.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Shapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good morning, Craig.
CC: Jeff, the Eastern Virginia Medical School internal investigation into the racist photos allegedly surrounding Governor Ralph Northam in blackface has concluded, ending pretty much where it began, inconclusively.
JS: Yes, of course. This inquiry was conducted by McGuireWoods, the politically muscular law firm here in town. It was retained by the Eastern Virginia Medical School. Of course, it is the alma mater of our governor. He was graduated from it in 1984, and his yearbook page included that now infamous photograph of a man in blackface and another person dressed as a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Now we all know the story, this seemingly panic stricken Northam ultimately denying that he was one or the other in that photograph, but that he would do that after apologizing for saying he might have been. He didn't say who. Then he outed himself for dressing as Michael Jackson, complete with black face, for a dance contest in Texas the same year that the photograph appeared. Now the investigation into the photograph shows pretty much nothing. The lawyers couldn't identify the two people in the picture. They couldn't say for sure that it wasn't Northam. The lawyers did conclude that it was no accident the picture turned up on Northam’s page. Of course, Northam says he hadn't seen the photograph until it became public this past February when it was posted to a right-wing news site. One thing is clear, however, that the school's administrators have known about this picture for some time, some years actually, that it's two most current presidents were aware of it and deliberately took steps pretty much to keep the picture under wraps. These executives, however, made four and five figure contributions to Northam’s various political campaigns, and of course the investigation concluded at about the same time Northam was taking more and more baby steps in his political rehabilitation. He's been raising money for his political action committee ahead of the big legislative elections this year. He’s been speaking out on issues and ideas, and the report may slow that somewhat by reminding voters of this huge embarrassment. Of course, it will be something the Republicans will be talking about in the elections, and that could diminish Democrats’ enthusiasm for not only trying to take back the House and Senate, they need two seats each, but holding some of those spectacular gains they achieved, those surprising gains they achieved in 2017 in the House.
CC: And Virginia senior U.S. Senator Mark Warner has introduced legislation making it a crime to not report contacts between U.S. campaigns and foreign interests, as then candidate Donald Trump did in 2016 with the Russians.
JS: Mark Warner is one of the Democrat’s top voices on national security, and he has been very busy, and I suspect having a bit of fun, holding Donald Trump accountable. Warner's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is expecting to hear fresh testimony from the president's son and namesake, Donald, Jr. Of course he took that meeting at Trump tower in June 2016 with a Kremlin- connected Russian lawyer to discuss the opponent research on Hillary Clinton. And as Warner points out, it was among at least 140 contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and keeping count of course was Robert Mueller, the independent counsel. Warner is crediting Muller for inspiring this legislation, and Warner is proposing fines of up to $500,000 and prison sentences of up to five years for campaign officials who don't disclose contacts with overseas nationals within a week of those contacts taking place.
CC: And Congressman Don Beyer, a Northern Virginia Democrat has become the first member of Virginia's congressional delegation to urge President Trump's impeachment.
JS: Beyer of course is among the most liberal Virginians in congress. He says the president has left the congress no choice but to take steps that could, and this is unlikely with a Republican Senate, that could lead to removing the president from office, and as Warner did in proposing that legislation, Beyer cites the Mueller report, specifically its suggestion that Trump may have illegally attempted to block the special counsel investigation. And Beyer says, as any number of Democrats have, that there is apparent evidence of tax fraud and campaign finance violations and that this all constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors, and of course said violations that the Constitution says are the basis for congress removing a president from office. A little bit about Don Beyer - a former lieutenant governor, defeated candidate for governor, former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. He does not sit on any of the House committees that are investigating Trump, that would include Judiciary and Oversight. However, Beyer represents one of the most uniformly blue districts in the state, and there can only be upsides for him with his voters in urging impeachment.
CC: And former Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative firebrand and no fan of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, is the president's pick as so called Immigration Czar.
JS: One assumes time heals all wounds. The former Virginia attorney general and defeated candidate for governor had been mentioned for this job for some time. He will be operating, Cuccinelli that is, will be operating from the Department of Homeland Security. It is a secretary that’s been in considerable turnover since Trump became president and of course elected on a promise to “build that wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, Cuccinelli is conservative as they come, but unlike some conservatives, he's been friendlier to many of the so-called new Americans, Asians and Hispanics, and a lot of that is tied to his early years in Virginia politics as a state senator. He represented in Northern Virginia a district that was not only Democratic, but it was heavily populated with immigrants. And as attorney general, he's spoken out time and again on steps to control human trafficking. They may be among the reasons Trump selected him, a tough guy exterior notwithstanding, that at least Cuccinelli has some understanding of the nuances of immigration and the supposed complexities at the border. Though it's important to underscore Cuccinelli has never really had a particularly charitable view of Trump. He did not support him for the nomination. Cuccinelli was a Ted Cruz guy, and you may remember that at the Republican National Convention in 2016 Cuccinelli was the face and voice of a procedural fight that was widely viewed as an effort to embarrass Trump.
CC: And a trade group has formed to promote a growing business in Virginia - cannabis.
JS: Ah, yes. I think the best part about this is the name of the new group, CannaBizVA. It is being formed to basically look out for the interest of the medical marijuana processors who are in the process of a slicing up the state into markets for medical marijuana and other health derivatives of cannabis. Its legislative counsel, Steve Baril is an unsuccessful candidate for attorney general, a Republican and a former son-in-law of the Virginia Governor John Dalton.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times- Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Looking forward to it.