Monday, September 20, 2010

More Good News for Dems: West Virginia Governor Turned Senate Candidate Under Investigation?

How ironic the man who want to inherit Sheets Byrd's Senate seat is under investigation over a highway project involving his home town. I thought this was business as usual in West Virginia?
We now know a major target of the federal probe into Gov. Joe Manchin's administration and the Department of Highways is a multi-million dollar road that runs through Fairmont.

Subpoenas have been issued to the Department of Highways and the Office of Administration, but those subpoenas have been off limits. The Attorney General's office is refusing to release any information about the investigation, despite media law experts who say the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires the Attorney General to release the information.

But has learned more about the investigation. A source within the DOH says the subpoenas are broad, but the Fairmont Gateway in Marion County is one of the targets.

The $150 million road has been under construction for several years and connects I-79 to Fairmont, which is Manchin's hometown.

Larry Puccio, Manchin's former chief of staff and current chair of the Democratic Party in West Virginia, also runs a real estate business in Fairmont. Sources believe Puccio could be part of the probe.

The governor says he cannot comment on the investigation and says he doesn't know if Puccio is a target.

"It's a process," Manchin says, referring to the investigation. "That's all I can tell you; it's a process."

And mum is the word when it comes to this federal probe
. Numerous FOIA requests filed by WSAZ all get the same response.

Dwane Tinsley a special assistant attorney general assigned to the investigation cites this exemption:

"The statute which specifically exempts disclosure in this instance is Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which prohibits government attorneys and others from '(disclosing) a matter occurring before the grand jury.' "

But media law expert Dave Barnette says the exemption for "government attorneys" is for U.S. Attorneys who are part of the investigation not defense attorneys.

Barnette says the attorney general's office is stonewalling the media and the public's right to know.

"There is nothing contained in Rule 6 which prevents a defendant's attorney from releasing a subpoena," Barnette says. "And in this case because the defendant's attorney is the Assistant Attorney General, it is clearly improper for them to withhold this information under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act."

Barnette says in Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to use the same argument, Rule 6 exempting government attorneys, to keep federal subpoenas issued out of the public's hands. The courts there ruled that was not allowed, and the subpoenas were released.
This probably isn't a good time to have your name mentinoned in the same breath as Rod Blagojevich. Naturally, they're trying to keep this under wraps until after the election.
The next step is to take the issue to court. Manchin said Monday that is what we should do.

The state would likely appeal and it would be several months before we found out anything, many speculate that the state would drag out the issue until after the November election.
The latest poll has GOP opponent John Raese within shouting distance of Manchin, who was though to be a lock a month ago. This news could tighten things up considerably.

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