Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s inglorious defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court of Virginia was surely not how he envisioned the conclusion of his UVA fishing expedition. Without any cause for suspicion, or the slightest evidence of malfeasance, Cuccinelli went after Michael Mann and the University of Virginia. In the multi-year saga, he couldn’t come up with a single piece of evidence that Mann’s climatology research was in any way fraudulent (mirroring the many “Climategate” investigations, all of which came to the same conclusion). And yet that’s not what did ultimately did him in. What killed his case was that he simply lacked the power to attempt to pry this information out of UVA—he had no legal authority to do so.
If Cuccinelli had hoped that this conclusion might allow him to retain some shred of his dignity, he hoped wrongly. Although there’s no great surprise in the Washington Post editorial board lambasting him for his stunning waste of government resources (if Cuccinelli wants to find a waste of state government money, he might start with the $600,000 that UVA had to spend to defend itself against his foolishness), he may be rather more chagrined to find that that most conservative of Virginia editorial pages—the Richmond Times-Dispatch joined in on upbraiding Cuccinelli, writing:
[Cuccinelli’s] pursuit of Mann was wrong in just about every way that it is possible to be wrong. […] That it rested on dubious science was the least of its many shortcomings. […] [H]e is a lawyer, and he should know something about the law. […] Cuccinelli never accused Mann of failing to do the work for which he was paid, or of spending the research money he received from the state and federal governments on, say, fast cars and fancy suits. Albemarle Circuit Judge Paul Peatross was entirely right when he said the AG never clearly stated “the nature of the conduct” Mann supposedly engaged in that constituted fraud. “What the attorney general suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the commonwealth simply is not stated,” Peatross wrote. […] If this were a robbery case, then the AG has now effectively been told (a) he used the wrong statute to seek a search warrant, and (b) he can’t use a search warrant in the hopes of finding out whether anything has been stolen. This will not go down in history as an episode of great lawyering prowess.
Sadly, this is probably still a political win for Cuccinelli. His base will undoubtedly see this as him losing on mere technicalities—they’ll just remember that he took on Mann (and, wait and see, will come to remember him as having been victorious).
As the RTD points out, for all of Cuccinelli’s talk of original intent and strict scrutiny, his application of the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act shows that’s really nothing more than that: talk.