The man who became famous for supporting vaginal probe ultrasound requirements last summer is facing a new kind of probe this week.
The controversy over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s relationship with a major campaign donor exploded Tuesday with news that the FBI is investigating whether the Republican governor and his wife may have promoted the donor’s company in exchange for financial and other benefits.
The FBI’s probe began with a securities investigation into Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company which produces a dietary supplement called Anatabloc, but investigators have expanded that probe and are now looking into whether McDonnell and his wife’s relationship with Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific, questioning the McDonnell’s associates about some of the gifts Williams gave the family.
That includes footing a $15,000 catering bill for McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding, a gift McDonnell the governor failed to disclose at the time and has since insisted wasn’t for him, but for his daughter and her new husband. According to Washington Post reports, McDonnell and his family also vacationed at Williams’ lake-house in 2011, and took rides in his Ferrari.
Questioned about the probe in an interview Tuesday, McDonnell insisted ”There’s nothing going on at all that impairs my ability to serve.”
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment on any investigations or potential investigations. I haven’t read the accounts this morning, I can only say I don’t comment on when there is or isn’t an investigation,” he told WTOP.
When asked to explain his relationship with Williams, he said, ”I’ve been blessed to have a lot of friends.”
While elected officials are permitted to receive gifts from donors under Virginia law, they must disclose any gifts worth more than $50. Now this probe has expanded in an attempt to figure out if in fact the governor has given any financial incentives to Star Scientific in exchange for the gifts he received.
Both the company and its CEO have also donated more than $120,000 to the governor and his political action committee.
McDonnell has helped to promote Star Scientific, with his wife flying to Florida to help promote Anatabloc to doctors and investors, a trip that occurred days before the summer 2011 wedding Williams helped to finance. The McDonnells also hosted an event promoting Anatabloc at the governor’s mansion a few months later.
McDonnell claims his actions on behalf of the company go no further than what any governor would do to help promote Virginia businesses.
Republican Attorney General and presumptive-gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is also embroiled in the scandal, having received donations from Williams and recently amended disclosure forms to reveal thousands of dollars in gifts from Williams. He also initially failed to disclose stock holdings in the company that he’s since sold off.
Democrats have argued that created a conflict of interest for Cuccinelli as he recently oversaw two cases involving Star Scientific, a civil lawsuit challenging the company’s state tax assessment, and a felony embezzlement case against a former chef at the governor’s mansion. Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein has insisted there has been “absolutely no conflict of interest with the Attorney General’s Office,” and has called the issue an “unnecessary distraction.”
Democratic State Senator Mark Herring, who’s running for the attorney general seat, is concerned over both McDonnell and Cuccinelli’s involvement with Williams and Star Scientific.
“It’s important that Virginians know whether there was any influence of public policy,” he said on Tuesday’s PoliticsNation, adding that “it doesn’t smell good.”
With Cuccinelli’s run for governor and McDonnell considered a possible 2016 candidate, the controversy certainly won’t help either politically.