Five years after calling on him to resign, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe spoke at a fundraiser for a state lawmaker who served jail time in an underage sex case.
McAuliffe, who served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, threw his support behind Democratic state senator Joe Morrissey in 2019, five years after Morrissey, 63, was charged with having a sexual relationship with his then-17-year-old part-time receptionist.
McAuliffe initially called on Morrissey to resign as a state delegate after the conviction, calling the charges "disturbing." But five years later, McAuliffe flipped and campaigned for Morrissey after he won the Democratic primary for a state senate seat. McAuliffe's change of heart is raising questions about his political motivations—in 2019, he called on Virginia Democratic governor Ralph Northam to step down due to a blackface scandal but two years later said he was "honored" to accept Northam's endorsement.
"What I love about Joe is he will fight for you," said McAuliffe at a fundraiser event at Morrissey's home in 2019. "And the people most in need is the one he will fight for, and that's what I respect about Joe Morrissey."
Morrissey told the Washington Free Beacon that McAuliffe's initial call for him to resign in 2014 was "politically expedient" and noted that McAuliffe changed his tune only after Morrissey won the state senate primary and became an important figure for Democrats seeking to maintain a majority in the state house last year.
"I won [the primary], and the next story was look at all these Democrats that are genuflecting at the altar of Joe Morrissey," said Morrissey. "I'm not naïve, I have thick Irish skin, and I get it."
"That's what politicians do, and that's why my wife hates politicians, because they just look at what's politically expedient," he added.
Morrissey said he is supporting McAuliffe's bid for governor. McAuliffe did not respond to a request for comment.
Morrissey's comments echo a complaint last week from former Democratic Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, who slammed McAuliffe for cozying up to his successor, Gov. Ralph Northam, after having called on Northam to step down because of a blackface scandal.
"The people of Virginia have not forgotten. They are not stupid. They are not fooled, they are not being hoodwinked," Wilder said. "You said [Northam] was in blackface. He's got to go. Have you changed your mind about any of this? And if not, then why not? Now, explain to the people of the commonwealth."
McAuliffe's support for Morrissey is raising the eyebrows of activists against child sex abuse, who say the gubernatorial candidate should have to answer for why he helped the controversial state senator get elected.
"Virginia's laws have allowed many who have committed sex crimes against minors to serve incredibly short jail sentences, and Morrissey served only three months," said Gabe Hoffman, an activist against child sex abuse and producer of the 2014 documentary An Open Secret. "If Virginia Republicans do not make this a major campaign issue this fall, they would be derelict in their duties."
Morrissey—who this year fought to overturn a Virginia law that allows the state to place violent sex predators under civil confinement—pleaded guilty in 2014 to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Morrissey also obtained nude photos of the girl and sent one to his friend, prosecutors alleged in the case. He later impregnated the girl, and they married after she turned 18.
Morrissey and his now-wife deny they had a sexual relationship while she was underage and say he believed she was 22 years old. He entered into an Alford plea with prosecutors, in which he maintained his innocence while conceding that the state probably had sufficient evidence to convict him on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In exchange, the county dropped several other charges, including a child pornography indictment.
In the 33-page plea agreement, prosecutors outlined their case against Morrissey, which was bolstered by interviews with the victim's family members, friends, coworkers, and Morrissey's staffers.
One of the girl's coworkers at a medical clinic said she observed Morrissey eyeing the victim's figure and remarking, "Whoa boy, she's underage."
Prosecutors also published pages of explicit text messages, which Morrissey claimed were planted by hackers.
"Hey buddy I just fucked her on my conference table and on the floor for good measure!" Morrissey said in one text to a friend, referring to the victim.
"U ARE SO LUCKY … CONGREATULATIONS BROTHER," the friend replied.
Morrissey, who was booted from the state bar association over the conviction, won reelection to the House of Delegates while campaigning from jail in 2015.
Morrissey has a long history of legal problems. As a county prosecutor in the early 1990s, he twice served jail time for punching an opposing defense lawyer and for writing a letter to a judge that was deemed threatening. He later had his law license suspended after he allegedly attempted to settle a rape case in exchange for donations to charities he selected.
After he was convicted of assault for punching his handyman in 1999, Morrissey was barred from practicing law in federal courts for allegedly trying to bribe a Habitat for Humanity employee to falsify his community service hours.
Morrissey was also charged, unsuccessfully, with perjury stemming from the 2014 underage sex case. This year, a court dismissed a case against Morrissey involving allegations of election malfeasance.