Politics & Policy

Scandal in West Virginia?

West Virginia Democrat senate candidate (and current governor) Joe Manchin may have a brewing “bridge to nowhere” scandal on his adminstration’s hands — except this time it’s the road straight to his hometown.

West Virginia TV station WSAZ-3 reports:

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 WSAZ.com 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.

The West Virginia Republican party is having a little fun with the situation. From their press release, headlined “Where is Larry Puccio?” and accompanied by a graphic of a milk carton featuring Puccio’s face:

Voters statewide are very worried. State Democrat Chair Larry Puccio has not been seen or spoken on the record to media and voters for 22 days. More than three weeks. …

Puccio cannot be found anywhere.  In addition to public appearances, his image and name have been scrubbed from Democrat websites, photo galleries and social media sites like Facebook.

“I have offered to debate my counterpart in the Democrat Party but we cannot find him anywhere.  Could this be a case of abduction by Democrat leaders or Democrat operatives who are concerned that he may spill the beans on the subpoenas and federal investigations?  We are worried about his safety,” said [West Virginia Republican chair Mike] Stuart.

“Some folks think he has been kidnapped by subpoenas or even a grand jury,” states Stuart, citing a September 18 Charleston Gazette column. That article confirmed that subpoenas delivered to employees of Governor Manchin this summer likely targeted Puccio.

After the press release was issued, the Charleston Daily Mail tracked down Puccio — “easily reachable by phone,” according to reporter Ry Rivard.

Meanwhile, Democrats are striking back at Republican senate candidate John Raese for his plan to encourage supporters to write letters to the editor about his candidacy. Raese announced that he will award $25 to the most published letter writer in each county — a tactic denounced by Democrats. From the Charleston Daily Mail:

Democratic Party executive director Derek Scarbro admitted it [the letter writing reward] wasn’t the most important thing in the world.

“I’m not saying it’s the central issue of the campaign, but it certainly raises a red flag,” he said.  “No one has ever done anything like this before. It just seems quite unusual, unethical and questionable at best.”

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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