Warner dives head first into Puckett mess

It’s all at the allegation stage right now, but this could be downright explosive for Mark Warner and his Senate campaign:

The son of a former Virginia state senator has told federal investigators that U.S. Sen. Mark Warner discussed the possibility of several jobs, including a federal judgeship, for the senator’s daughter in an effort to dissuade him from quitting the evenly divided state Senate.

Warner was part of a string of high-powered Virginia Democrats who in late May and early June pressed then-state senator Phillip P. Puckett not to go through with plans to give up his seat in the middle of a bitterly partisan battle over health care.

A Warner spokesman acknowledged Friday that the conversation occurred, but he emphasized that the senator had not made an explicit job offer.

I heard these rumors swirling earlier in the week but it seemed out of character for the highly-practiced, very careful Warner to do something that would be so blisteringly stupid. But here we go:

On May 30, three days before the state senator’s resignation became official, Warner called Puckett’s son, Joseph, and discussed an appointment to the federal bench as well as a potential corporate position for Martha Puckett Ketron, according to Joseph Puckett’s lawyer, Charles E. “Chuck” James Jr. of Williams Mullen.

James said that Warner suggested a post for Ketron at CGI, at high-tech firm that Warner helped lure to Southwest Virginia when he was governor a decade ago.

“My client, Joseph Puckett received a phone call from Senator Warner, in which there was discussion of a CGI [ job] or a federal judgeship for the sister,” James said Friday.

Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said that the U.S. senator “brainstormed” with Joseph Puckett about potential private-sector jobs for the state senator’s daughter, Martha Puckett Ketron. Hall also acknowledged that Warner discussed a judgeship, but he said: “He did not offer any job nor would he nor could he, frankly.”

In the current climate, and with the Puckett matter still rubbing as lot of nerves in capitol square, this looks very bad.

It might not be illegal. But for an incumbent Senator facing re-election — even in a race where he’s never trailed — this goes down as an unforced error.

And potentially, a very, very big one.