Propagating the Big Lie

As reported in today’s Washington Times (“GOP hit hard on road plan“), House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) had this to say about the constitutionality of HB3202:

“The facts are that some of us raised the question and we were assured by the [attorney general’s] staff that it was constitutional”

This claim has often been repeated by the likes of Speaker Howell, Delegates Albo, Rust and a bunch of other legislators who are now trying to justify their vote in favor of HB 3202, in the face of a mounting statewide voter revolt.

Unfortunately, this is nothing more than an often repeated Big Lie. As shown in the email received by one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against HB 3202, AG Bob McDonnell responded to the Robert Dean’s inquiry by stating that his office has issued no such formal opinion.

Subject: RE: Constitutionality of transportation plan…
Date: May 2, 2007 12:41:31 PM EDT
To: robertkdean@XXXXXX.XXX

Robert, thanks for your inquiry. No formal opinion of the Attorney general has been issued on constitutional questions relating to HB 3202. Formal opinions are the ones that are public and used to clarify the law. These are all available on our website at There has been informal advice rendered to several clients of this office upon request, which as you know I am bound by the attorney client privilege to keep confidential. I am unsure what opinion copy was being referred to last night. Thank You for your interest. (emphasis added)

Given this fact, how can anyone vote for politicians who continue to propagate lies and misinformation?

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13 responses to “Propagating the Big Lie”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “Given this fact, how can anyone vote for politicians who continue to propagate lies and misinformation?”

    Doesn’t leave us much to vote for, does it?


  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Let’s not leave our Governor off the list either. He campaigned on protecting the transportation trust fund, no new taxes until there was a constitutional amendment to protect the funds, and stronger links between land use and transportation. But then, after but a couple of weeks in office, Kaine started to push for tax increases. Behave in February the way you campaigned in October.

    From a policy perspective, Kaine has done a reasonably good job in the area of transportation reform and additional land use checks. But he still fibbed big time to the residents of Virginia.

    We need elected officials who make every reasonable effort to govern the way that they campaigned. We need people who are willing to say “no” to this lobbyist or special interest group when “no” is the best answer. We need elected officials who try to make decisions based on facts and analysis and not puffy rhetoric. We need Governors who will veto pork and leave the funds for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. For one, I’m sick of government operating its transportation budget to “enable development.” Fix the existing roads; make spot improvements; manage traffic; and ignore everything ever written in a WaPo editorial!

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Phil, It looks like a slam-dunk on the fact that AG McDonnell never issued a formal opinion about HB 3202. But that’s not quite what Griffith said. He said (according to your quote), “We were assured by *the staff* that it was constitutional.”

    That sounds very close to what McDonnell said: “There has been informal advice rendered to several clients of this office upon request.” Note: He didn’t say that *he* rendered the advice. The advice “had been rendered” — presumably by someone on his staff.

    Thus, I would have two observations.

    (1) It seems to be a bit strong to describe the comments of Griffith (and others, assuming they parsed their language the same way) as a “big lie.” Griffith wasn’t lying. You can argue that he was misleading while adhering technically to the truth — “I did not have sex with that woman” — but that’s a different argument to make.

    (2) McDonnell’s e-mail makes you wonder what kind of advice “was rendered.” We may never find out because of attorney-client privilege. But McDonnell has been notably quiet throughout this debate. Perhaps the spotlight needs to be aimed on him.

  4. Toomanytaxes: Important points. What’s your take on public financing of elections? I haven’t researched it yet, but my gut is it might save more in pork and special tax giveaways than it costs to administer.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    McDonnell was splitting hairs but accruate. Formal opinions are publid documents; routine legal advice is issued daily if not hourly by the AG himself or the staff to their agency and legislative clients. Sometimes its written and usually it is exempt from FOIA as attorney-client communication. But I can guarantee you that reams of documents and massive amounts of data files exist in that office on this question to back up any advice given. It’s a law firm. Everything is documented.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    And another EXTREMELY important point. Any privilege could be breached by the client. The Governor or a member of the legislature could release any written advice received from the AG’s office….

  7. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    >>> But McDonnell has been notably quiet throughout this debate. Perhaps the spotlight needs to be aimed on him.<<< Jim: I wholeheartedly agree that the spotlight needs to be aimed at McDonnell. Let’s not forget that he was one of the behind-the-scene-architects pushing for HB3202. McDonnell along with such notables as Tom Davis, Frank Wolf and Ed Gilespie were all part of the cabal that pushed Howell and the boys to come up with one sink or die massive transportation bill. It’s now interesting to see what all the behind-the-scene drivers are now saying or doing since the backlash was unleashed against this bill. Tom Davis has done an about face and says that the traffic abuser fees should be repealed, while he’s wife, State Sen. Devolites-Davis–who was one of the major advocates behind this bill–is now calling for a special session to repeal the abuser fees. Frank Wolf has not been heard off since he along with Davis, McDonnell, and Gillespie arm twisted Speaker Howell into pushing through HB3202. (Wolf seems now content only talking about how much transportation pork he’s bringing into his district and promoting the rail to Dulles boondoggle.) Like a rat abandoning a sinking ship, Ed Gillespie left the RPV after serving for about half-a-year as its chairman. I will never forget how Gillespie was promoted at the Republican Advance last December as the savior that was going to cure the RPV from all sorts of ills that had befallen it. Instead, he torpedoed the entire organization and jumped ship so that he won’t get the blame for the looming disaster in November–a disaster where the GOP will likely lose control of both Houses. And as far as McDonnell is concerned, well you said it. He has not been seen since the abuser fee blew up and the many unconstitutional provisions of HB3202 are being contested in court. McDonnell and the AG’s office are not even defending the HB3202 lawsuit. They’ve hired McGuire Woods to do their work–in other words the taxpayers get screwed again, as they are now going to have to pick up a McGuire Woods’ bills. But there may be some silver linings in this disaster. McDonnell’s chances for running for Governor–his sole preoccupation until recently–have now evaporated. And Davis’ involvement will be used against him if he decides to run for the U.S. Senate. I would also suspect that even if the GOP manages to hold on to its majority in the House of Delegates, Bill Howell will not be the House Speaker much longer.

  8. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Anon 10:23

    You’re absolutely correct! Since Howell and the boys have been openly talking about the “advice” they got from the AG’s office, there is no attorney client privilege they can continue to invoke.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Our attorney in the AG’s office has told me two things about the OAG’s activities during any legislative session:

    1) Some of the attorneys actually do not read/review bills beyond the the fourth page.

    2) Much, much of the actual legal research is done by law students and interns…most of whom are often not familiar with interrelated laws.

    Finally, the OAG is very much a political office as it is a “law firm.” Many times this past year political values have trumped actual legal facts and precedents.

  10. Groveton Avatar

    Whether it’s a “big lie” or just sloppy work – it is disheartening.

    In a state where the state legislature has clung to power through adherence to a 100+ year old legal ruling called Dillon’s Rule that same state has substantial and immediate constitutional problems with bill after bill.

    Now they play the blame game with the AG.

    The state legislature has too much power. Virginia needs to join the other 45 states that have watered down the Dillon’s Rule construct and move into the 20th Century (Note: Not the 21st century, just the 20th century).

    These people are too stupid to represent us.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Anonymous 7:43, I dispute that.

    Unless things have changed very, very racially, the lawyers in the AG’s office read the bills, usually more than once. HB 3202 got read plenty.

    No research of any consequence is done by students or interns, who are mainly around in the summer — not during session. And on a bill this important, the best people would have been engaged.

    Of course its a political office, but my experience was the politics stayed on the Sixth Floor (the administration) and away from the divisions. Earley and Beales demanded untainted advice from the divisions and I’ll bet McDonnell and Mims are the same way. I’m on the outside now, but I am 110 percent confident you have been totally misinformed or have no such informant at all.

    Steve Haner
    Director of Administration

  12. Blackstone Avatar

    At the risk of beating this to death, please note that the “attorney-client priviledge” that has been discussed is for the benefit and protection of the CLIENT.

    Should any of the worthies claimng to have been misadvised as to the constitutionality wish to clarify the record, they have only to release any written advice they received or name the lawyer they claim gave the advice.

    Seems like they have all decided on the be defense is the “obsfuscation defense”. This defense –best seen at the federal level– is based on the well known motto of the respected “International Association of Political Deflectors and Obfuscators”: “When the facts are becoming too clear –fuzzify immediately!”

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Haner, you are entitled to your experience-based opinion. I will not gainsay it. I will only say that I have no cause to make up what I was told.

    Further, given my own very explicit experience with very poor legal research from the OAG before, during, and after the 2006 and 2007 sessions, I find the explanation I was given makes sense.

    Perhaps I was indeed misinformed. Fine, in that case it is just old-fashioned incompetence.

    And if you call sitting on requests for contract reviews or opinion on certain matters “keeping politics on the sixth floor”, so be it.

    Anon 7:43

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