Have you ever experienced a technological glitch with your cell phone service? I have. For a while last spring, whenever Sen. Phil Puckett got a call, my phone would ring too. Oddly, I could listen in on the Russell County Democrat’s conversations, and on voicemail messages people left him, too.
Those got real interesting early in June, after word got around Puckett might resign from the state Senate. Fortunately I took notes, which I’m sharing with you before the FBI subpoenas them.
CALLER: Phil, it’s Terry Kilgore. I want to make sure we’re clear on our deal. You resign from the Senate and you’ll get a job with the tobacco commission and your daughter will get confirmed as a judge. Then the GOP can shoot down McAuliffe’s Medicaid expansion plan.
PUCKETT: Hold on a minute, Terry. I also want a corner office with a Chippendale desk and a $1,000-a-month expense account.
KILGORE: Good grief, Phil, that wasn’t our deal.
PUCKETT: I’m not trading away the health care of thousands of constituents for nothing, Terry.
KILGORE: I gotta take this call. I’ll get back to you. (Click.)
The call goes to voicemail.
CALLER: Phil, it’s Paul Reagan, the governor’s chief of staff. Sorry, we can’t swing the confirmation of that judgeship for your daughter. But if you stay in the Senate, the governor will appoint her as secretary of Mines, Minerals & Energy. That way, every coal mine owner in Virginia will be under your thumb. But we’ve got to move fast. Call me back. (Click).
CALLER: Dad, it’s Joseph. Listen, I just got off the phone with Sen. Mark Warner. He says he can try to get Martha a job with a technology company if you stay in the state Senate.
PUCKETT: A technology company? He’s got to do better than that.
JOSEPH PUCKETT: That’s what I told him. Then he said he’d lobby for Obama to nominate her to the U.S. Supreme Court.
PUCKETT: But son, she’s not qualified. She’s just a substitute family court judge in Russell County! Anyway, there’s no opening.
JOSEPH PUCKETT: I know. It’s complicated. She’s not qualified for Mines, Minerals & Energy either. Anyway, Warner told me one of the old geezer justices wants his son appointed deputy attorney general and the White House is going to make him step down in return.
PUCKETT: Jesus, that’s hard to believe.
JOSEPH PUCKETT: The Democrats are really desperate for this Medicaid expansion, Dad. To borrow a phrase from Rod Blagovich, your state Senate seat is effin golden. Think about it and call me back, OK? (Click).
CALLER: Phil, it’s Terry again. OK, you can have the office, the desk and the expense account. Have we got a deal?
PUCKETT: What about a car, Terry? I saw a nice Cadillac down at the dealership. It parallel parks itself.
KILGORE: Are you kidding, Phil? I’m already going out on a limb here. If anyone starts sniffing around the Tobacco Commission, I’m going to be in a world of hurt.
PUCKETT: But Terry, now I’m getting other offers, from McAuliffe’s office and Mark Warner. Listen, it’s a bronze XTS. Call me back and let me know if we have a deal. (Click).
PUCKETT: eBay central … I mean, hello?
CALLER: Sen. Puckett, it’s President Obama calling.
PUCKETT: Mr. President! How are things in Washington?
OBAMA: Well, Phil, my golf is improving. But the rest of this governing stuff is for the birds. I feel like I’m playing nine games of Whack-A-Mole at once with only two arms. Look, I want you to know that Obamacare is really important to me, and it won’t work without Medicaid expansion. I trust you spoke to your son, who spoke to Sen. Warner?
PUCKETT: Yessir! I’m thinking about it. Can you toss in an invitation to a state dinner for me and the wife? For someone big, like Queen Elizabeth?
OBAMA: I’m from Illinois, Phil. That’s a place where anything’s possible. You’ve got an hour to make up your mind. Let us know. (Click).
CALLER: Phil, it’s Terry again. Look, I got you that car. The darn thing cost $45,000, but …
PUCKETT: But I wanted the $63,000 model, with the twin turbo!
KILGORE: This is getting to be extortion, Phil.
PUCKETT: Extortion? Really, Terry? That’s how I felt when you told me my daughter wouldn’t get confirmed as a judge unless I resigned from the Senate.
KILGORE: That’s not extortion, Phil. That’s called politics as usual. Look, I’ll have to call you back.
But Kilgore never did. Then the story broke. The calls stopped, the auction folded, and the FBI began knocking on doors.