Washington Post Editorial Board
WHEN A public television station in Norfolk aired a report last month that the campaign of Rep. Scott W. Taylor (Va.) was engaged in pre-election skullduggery — helping a rival qualify for the ballot to split potential opposition votes — the freshman Republican called the story a “nothing burger.” Lately that “nothing burger” has started to look like a very Big Mac indeed that may lead to criminal charges. Whether Mr. Taylor himself is implicated in those charges is now an open question.
Regarded until recently as a rising GOP star, Mr. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, a coastal region that includes most of Hampton Roads and the sprawling naval facilities there. When he was elected in 2016, he trounced a Democrat, Shaun Brown, by 22 points.
This year, the Democratic establishment wanted nothing to do with Ms. Brown, who at the moment is facing a retrial on federal fraud charges; her first trial ended with a hung jury. Instead, Democrats nominated Elaine Luria, who, like Taylor, is a former Navy officer, to challenge him in what is expected to be a close race.
Ms. Brown, feeling aggrieved, launched a petition drive to get on the ballot. That apparently inspired Mr. Taylor, or his aides, to decide they would help her, the better to dilute the Democratic vote in a district split closely between the two parties. Whether Mr. Taylor orchestrated the effort or simply allowed it is a distinction without a difference; he told The Post last month that he knew about it and could have stopped it had he wanted.
As campaign sleaze goes, that would have been the garden-variety sort — but it didn’t end there. Once Ms. Brown’s petitions were submitted, with a major assist from the Taylor campaign, it turned out they included dozens of fraudulent signatures. Some of those who “signed” were dead; some had left the district years ago; others were local politicos or their relatives who, when contacted, said they hadn’t signed the petition. Forging signatures on election forms is a crime in Virginia.
Mr. Taylor’s subsequent squirming has only thickened the stench. Having initially acknowledged that he was all for the Brown petition drive, because it might help his reelection prospects — “I’m not dumb,” he said — he later distanced himself from it, literally, claiming he was in Washington while his aides were gathering (or forging) signatures. Alas, social media betrayed him: It turns out he had tweeted from his district, and posted a photograph of himself there, on June 9 and 10, dates that coincided with the petition drive.
Lately, as a special prosecutor investigates whether a crime was committed, Mr. Taylor has avoided journalists and questions; he has also fired his campaign manager and a campaign consultant. On Wednesday, in a separate judicial matter, a judge in Richmond ordered Ms. Brown removed from the ballot, saying her petitions were peppered with forgeries and fraud — courtesy, it appears, of the Taylor campaign.
Five of Mr. Taylor’s current or former aides have filed affidavits invoking the Fifth Amendment, suggesting they fear incriminating themselves if asked to testify. As for the congressman himself, his day in court may be coming.