By Matt Shuham, Talking Points Memo
Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA), a well-known Republican congressman and former Navy SEAL, personally called a constituent who had accused his reelection campaign of forging voters’ signatures and pressured her to withdraw the accusation, four people with knowledge of the call described to TPM.
It was an unusually personal intervention from a congressman whose campaign staffers have since been accused of 59 signature forgeries and counting, according to a recent Virginian-Pilot report, including from the families of four dead voters whose signatures nonetheless appear on petition sheets collected by Taylor’s staffers.
Despite the congressman’s call on Aug. 3, Lindsey Terry, the technology chairwoman for the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee, knew before anyone else that something very fishy was going.
Eileen Eady, Terry’s friend and former neighbor, had left her Virginia Beach rental and to moved Las Vegas years ago. She even ran an unsuccessful campaign this year for Clark County School Board of Trustees.
“I know she moved,” Terry told TPM on the phone recently.
And yet, Eady’s purported signature and outdated Virginia address appeared on a petition sheet collected in June by a Taylor campaign staffer, Heather Guillot, to get an independent candidate, Shaun Brown, on the congressional ballot.
Several other Taylor staffers have since been accused of collecting fraudulent signatures on Brown’s behalf. The congressman has consistently claimed ignorance of any improprieties that occurred, though he’s acknowledged that he knew his staffers were collecting signatures for Brown.
Taylor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM.
The apparent aim of the forged signatures was to split the Democratic vote in two by getting Brown, the Democrats’ 2016 nominee, on the ballot as an independent next to Elaine Luria, the Democrats’ 2018 nominee.
The Virginia Democratic Party has sued the state’s top election officials to get Brown off the ballot; Brown has fought back. There’s a hearing scheduled for Wednesday. A state judge also assigned a special prosecutor to look into potential criminal violations.
After recognizing her old neighbor’s impossible signature on petition sheets published two days earlier by WHRO, Terry appears to have been the very first person to publicly accuse Taylor’s campaign of a forgery scheme.
“.Scotttaylorva your PAID staff Heather Guillot was forging signatures for Independent Shaun Brown,” she wrote on Twitter, above photos of the allegedly forged signature and Eady’s drivers license.
“#TiskTisk,” she added. “Eileen Eady is my old neighbor and best friend. She hasn’t lived at that address since 2013!!! #DirtyTactics”
Terry posted the same message to her Facebook page, at first tagging Guillot’s account directly.
It wasn’t long until Terry heard from her congressman.
“I got a phone call from a mutual friend,” Terry said, “who basically said that Scott Taylor had called him, and that he was very upset. I said, ‘I’m not taking it down. If he has something to say, he can call me himself.’”
So Taylor did. Terry described his tone as “frantic.”
Taylor, according to Terry, said that Guillot“should” and “probably will” take legal action against her. Terry said Taylor was “trying to play the good guy,” telling her that he didn’t “want to see any lawsuits happening,” while also insinuating “that she was going to sue me — threatening a lawsuit on her behalf, in that sense.”
“He was insinuating that I should take it down,” she said. “I told him I wouldn’t. I told him I’d re-word it and, basically, take out me saying that she’d forged it. I did compromise with him on that.”
“It’s an intimidation factor to try and make me back down on it” Terry said, adding separately: “I felt like he was trying to intimidate.”
It didn’t stop there.
“He even told me he had somebody drive past Eileen’s old house, drive past my house, to verify that I was who I said I was,” Terry said.
“‘I do know that you were [Eady’s] neighbor; we had somebody drive by,’” she recalled Taylor saying.
Virginia Beach Democratic Committee Chairwoman Carla Hesseltine told TPM Terry is a “tough woman, but she was scared” by the call.
“You have a sitting congressman, who’s an ex-Navy SEAL, swearing at a constituent, and he’s telling her he knows where she lives?” Hesseltine said. “She’s a new mom! She has a baby.”
“It was a little bit disconcerting,” agreed Susan Loesberg, programming chair for the Virginia Beach Democrats, who also spoke to Terry soon after the call. “He had done his homework.”
“I think it was extraordinary for a U.S. congressman to call a constituent and insinuate that she could be sued,” Loesberg said.
Taylor and Terry also exchanged text messages, according to screenshots Terry provided to TPM. At around 7 p.m., Taylor sent Terry a photo of a voter file for Eady from the Koch-backed data firm i360, which showed Eady as having voted in Virginia in 2016, but that isn’t accurate. Terry told Eady, who sent back photos of her official voter files from Virginia — showing her as “Inactive” — and Nevada. Terry sent them to the congressman. “Very weird,” Taylor said, before sending a photo of a different voter’s profile listed to Eady’s old Virginia address. “Other persons registered at the house.”
After her call and texts with Taylor, Terry, as agreed with the congressman, edited out the direct accusation of forgery against Guillot on her Facebook page. She deleted the tweet, which couldn’t be edited.
‘She Should Sue’
TPM couldn’t reach Taylor for comment. His spokesperson, Scott Weldon, didn’t respond to TPM’s emailed questions, nor did an email address for Taylor’s campaign.
But Taylor has acknowledged calling Terry, and he did appear to accuse her publicly of defaming Guillot.
“An Eileen Eady voted in person in 2016 in VA, via database. Onerous [sic] is on VA [State Board of Elections] to verify all signatures. Clearly not a signature forged by Heather (not even close to the same writing) but clearly defamation of a private citizen,” he wrote on Twitter, quoting Terry’s initial Aug. 3 tweet alleging forged signatures.
“Lawsuit coming??” he added. “Somebody using Eady name/ID to vote.”
Eady brought up the tweet to TPM. “He’s actually never spoken to me” about his voter fraud claim, she said.
“I know our congresspeople here in the Nevada, and I would expect that if Catherine Cortez Masto, or Dina Titus, or Ruben Kihuen or Jacky Rosen had gotten some misinformation, they would investigate it, they would check into it, and they would’ve called me. I would’ve gotten a phone call from somebody.”
She added: “If the facts are in your favor, and the information you have is accurate, you don’t have anything to hide. So why wouldn’t you call the person whose name is in question?”
Taylor has since deleted the tweet. When Terry asked him about it on Twitter a few days later, he was dismissive:
On Aug. 6, three days after he called Terry, Taylor posted a DIY scandal response video on Facebook, also since deleted, in which he accused local and national Democrats of defaming one of his campaign staffers, presumably Guillot, who he referred to as “a single female, private citizen.”
“They also accused this private citizen of committing a crime of fraud,” he said. “I mean, she should sue them. They defamed her publicly. I hope she does sue them.”
He added a now-familiar, but unfulfilled, pledge: “If anyone in my campaign did anything that was wrong, that was illegal, or inappropriate or something like that, I would fire them in a second, to include my closest advisers.”
Taylor has said he fired an unnamed campaign consultant over the signature scandal, and that the scandal reinforced his earlier decision to fire his unnamed campaign manager “for separate issues.” One of the staffers accused of forging a dozen signatures and counting, though, is hosting an event for Taylor on Wednesday night.
For her part, Terry doesn’t seem to have been fazed by the Taylor’s call on Aug. 3. Four days later, the Virginian-Pilot published a brief letter to the editor she’d written.
“U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor’s staff has potentially compromised our election,” it began.