- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Republicans are questioning anew Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s judgment, saying his last-minute push as governor to return a convicted killer to Germany is a “critical issue” for voters to consider.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, state GOP lawmakers slammed Kaine’s treatment of Jens Soering, a German diplomat’s son who is serving two life sentences for the killing of his ex-girlfriend’s parents. Hours before his Republican successor took over in January 2010, Kaine secretly asked federal officials to transfer Soering to Germany under a deal that would have made him eligible for release in two years.

“We think it’s important to show whether he’d be a good vice president and one step away from the White House,” said state Del. Rob Bell, who is running for state attorney general.

But while Kaine’s decision caused an uproar when first made public and was quickly reversed by his successor, it has not proved to be a huge liability on the campaign trail. Republicans tried with limited effect to use the Soering issue to paint Kaine as soft on crime during the 2012 Senate race, which Kaine won.

“They were never able to make it a convincing attack on Kaine’s character,” said Bob Holsworth, a consultant and retired Virginia Commonwealth University political analyst.

Kaine has defended his decision as a financial one, saying that while Soering is “not a sympathetic character,” the man’s home country should have to pay to keep him behind bars.

“I basically said, ‘Look, Virginia taxpayers have borne the cost of this German citizen’s incarceration for 20-plus years.’ I thought it was time for German citizens to bear the cost of his incarceration,” Kaine told reporters a day after he entered the 2012 race.

Kaine previously told The Associated Press in an interview that he thought he was done with politics when he recommended Soering’s transfer.

“I frankly thought that I wouldn’t see my name on a ballot again,” Kaine said.

Soering has maintained his innocence and said he confessed to the murders only to help his ex-girlfriend’s case.

He filed a lawsuit against McDonnell for quashing Kaine’s transfer request, but a judge dismissed the case in 2012. Soering asked Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe last year to let him serve his sentence in Germany, but McAuliffe denied his bid, saying he believes Soering’s trial and conviction were in accordance with Virginia law.

Amy Dudley, a spokeswoman for Kaine, said the vice presidential candidate has had no further involvement with the case since he was governor.

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