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Top Virginia Republican Defends Colleagues' Effort to Delay Election Certification

Man standing
Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) is defending members of his caucus who were stripped of their committee assignments following their signing on to a letter seeking to get Vice President Mike Pence to delay certification of Virginia's presidential election results. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

Fallout from the November presidential elections continued to reverberate in Virginia’s Democrat-controlled legislature on the eve of President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) on Tuesday defended three members of his caucus who sought to delay certification of Biden's presidential win in Virginia. At least one of the lawmakers, Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudon), said he’s consulting with an attorney after he was stripped of a committee assignment over his actions. 

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Senate revoked a lone remaining committee assignment from Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian), a leading gubernatorial candidate. She also faces censure in that body. Chase spoke at the Jan.6  “Stop the Steal” rally and later called the people who attacked the Capitol “patriots,” though she said she did not join their ranks.

The dispute in Virginia’s House stems from a letter dated Jan. 5, sent by LaRock, Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), and Del. Ronnie Campbell (R-Rockbridge) to Vice President Mike Pence. The delegates asked Pence to delay certification of the results -- a power he does not possess -- until the results had been audited.

In a call with reporters, Gilbert said the trio were simply “looking into some of these discrepancies we saw all across the country,” echoing unproven claims of election irregularities. He said Democratic voting legislation passed last year “greatly contributed to undermining confidence in the election.”

The claims cut against the verdict of election monitors and the state’s top election officials. That includes a former colleague who now sits on the State Board of Elections. Former GOP Del. John O’Bannon told VPM in November that he believed “elections had been fair” in Virginia. Nationally, courts have tossed out over 60 lawsuits contesting the presidential election results. 

Last week, Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn stripped LaRock, Cole, and Campbell of one committee assignment each. She called their letter “an affront to our democracy.”

In an email with the subject line “Urgent - Immediate restoration of committee assignments” sent to Filler-Corn on Friday, LaRock and Campbell called her action “inappropriate” because it “disregards our protected expression of speech.” They gave Filler-Corn until 9 a.m. on Monday to reinstate them to the committees -- action she has so far not taken. 

“It is necessary that we be immediately offered the option to resume our roles serving on our various committees and be given assurances that the legislation we have filed will be given a full and fair hearing,” LaRock and Campbell wrote.

In a text message, LaRock said he was conferring with attorneys over the concerns he outlined in the letter.

In a call with reporters recorded by WRIC, Gilbert took up his colleagues’ claim that Filler-Corn had administered justice unevenly. He said Filler-Corn had not taken action against two Democrats: one “rioting in the District of Columbia”-- a reference to Del. Ibrahim Samirah, who was tear gassed outside the White House in protests after the death of George Floyd; and another “challenging a police line” -- a reference to Del. Lee Carter, who got into a physical altercation with law enforcement during a protest in Manassas. 

“This was purely a political retribution, and one meant to satisfy her side and her base,” Gilbert said.

Filler-Corn’s spokesman, Kunal Atit, said Gilbert was trafficking in claims that had drawn condemnation “across the political spectrum.”

“Leader Gilbert has no problem with members of his caucus seeking to disenfranchise Virginians and peddling the same falsehoods that ultimately led to the riots at the Capitol,” Atit said in a statement.

House Democrats advanced several bills on Tuesday that would expand access to voting. The Privileges and Elections subcommittee voted along party lines to move forward legislation removing the witness requirement on absentee ballots as well as a bill allowing in-person absentee voting on Sundays. The committee rejected all but one Republican bill; it would allow curbside voters to observe their ballot being placed inside a scanner.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify Del. Gilbert's views on the November election.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.