- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

RICHMOND — Legal battles over Republican eavesdropping on Democratic conference calls effectively ended yesterday with both sides signing an agreement obliging the state Republican Party to pay Democrats $750,000.

Democrats also released depositions and court records that they say show that the state’s highest-ranking Republican official, Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, did nothing to prevent a second intercepted call.

“He pulled a Pontius Pilate and punted,” Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said of Mr. Kilgore, the presumed Republican nominee for governor next year.

Sworn depositions from top Kilgore aides show that he intentionally cut himself off from hearing details when he first learned from a senior staff member, Anne Petera, about suspicions of illegal spying on the Democrats’ calls. Mr. Kilgore said in an interview that it was legally prudent to insulate himself from the details.

Instead, Mr. Kilgore told Miss Petera to give the details to his chief counsel at the time, Bernie McNamee.

“The facts have been revealed about the actions — or non-actions — by this attorney general, and they don’t like it,” Mr. Moran said in a conference call with reporters to announce the completion of the settlement.

Mr. Kilgore’s press secretary, Tim Murtaugh, said the Democrats were releasing selected records from their files to present the case in its most sinister light.

“The Democrats are not going to have their trial, so they’re going to try this in the press,” Mr. Murtaugh said.

The lawsuit formally ends after the Democrats receive the full payment from the Republican Party, said Kenneth C. Smurzynski, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney. Mr. Smurzynski said the payment was due soon, but would not elaborate.

The lawsuit, filed by 33 Democratic lawmakers, was scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court beginning tomorrow. The settlement scuttles a high-profile trial during which Mr. Kilgore could have been forced to take the witness stand and submit to interrogation by attorneys for the Democrats.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington said money from the settlement will be used for three purposes: to pay the Democrats’ attorneys; to support ethics programs at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University; and for the individual plaintiffs themselves.

Mr. Moran and Mrs. Whipple said they thought there was no need to take the case to trial because the settlement achieves their dual goals, particularly discouraging future political espionage.

“Our second objective was to get a real acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the Republican Party and other defendants, and we feel that has been accomplished since they offered an extraordinary sum of money to settle this thing,” Mrs. Whipple said.

The Democrats sued in March, nearly two years after Edmund A. Matricardi III, then state Republican Party executive director, used pass codes that a disgruntled former Democratic operative gave him to secretly monitor Democratic teleconferences on March 22 and March 25, 2002.

Matricardi pleaded guilty in 2003 to a felony count of intercepting a wire communication. He was sentenced to three years’ probation. Miss Petera was never a target of the investigation.

Depositions by Matricardi, Miss Petera and others show that Matricardi called Miss Petera minutes after the first call and regaled her with accounts of the Democrats’ teleconference, which briefly included Gov. Mark Warner. The next day, according to his deposition, he gave her copies of notes that he made from the 2-hour call.

The depositions, released yesterday, provide a fuller account of basic details in the case.

In particular, Miss Petera testified under oath in her deposition that she had told Mr. McNamee on March 24, 2002, about Matricardi’s involvement. That contradicts long-standing claims by Mr. Kilgore’s office that Mr. McNamee knew nothing about Matricardi’s role when he attended a meeting on the afternoon of March 25 to plot Republican strategy in the redistricting fight. Matricardi was at the meeting along with former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, several Republican lawmakers and lawyers from the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Murtaugh said Miss Petera’s testimony was wrong and produced a memorandum that he said Mr. McNamee filed on April 1, 2002, recording his day-by-day involvement in the emerging scandal from the start. Mr. McNamee wrote that he stopped Miss Petera before she provided names, told her that “this sounded very serious” and that it needed to be reported to the authorities. The Virginia State Police were told the next day.

“The deposition Anne gave occurred 30 months after the events of those days,” Mr. Murtaugh said. “Regarding what she told Bernie, she could have been wrong about that. These are facts that could have come been followed up on at trial.”

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