Cuccinelli struggles to steer clear of Virginia scandal

Cuccinelli struggles to steer clear of Virginia scandal
Cuccinelli struggles to steer clear of Virginia scandal
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial hopeful, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, hosted a town-hall meeting last night with a friendly crowd eager to help their candidate. But it wasn’t long before someone raised the specter of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) possible indictment.

Cuccinelli conceded that the governor’s scandal is affecting this year’s statewide race, but added, “It is personal to the governor.”

This is, of course, the line Virginia Republicans are heavily invested in. Unable to think of a defense for their ally, GOP officials are stuck with a straightforward defense: this is a McDonnell scandal, not a GOP one.

But for Cuccinelli, putting distance between himself and the controversy isn’t as easy as it sounds. As the New York Times reports this morning, Cuccinelli has his own ties to the executive who showered McDonnell and his family with extravagant gifts.

Star Scientific and its chief executive have been at the center of an exploding political drama in Virginia as state and federal investigators look into lavish gifts that the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., gave Gov. Bob McDonnell.

And now, despite his efforts to distance himself, scrutiny is growing of Mr. Cuccinelli’s ties to the executive. […]

The attorney general is not known to be a target of the investigations into Mr. McDonnell, including one by a federal grand jury. At no time, the attorney general said, did he receive stock tips from the executive. But Mr. Cuccinelli’s buying and selling of Star Scientific shares raises questions about whether he and Mr. Williams were as distant as campaign aides insist.

Clearly, McDonnell is facing a world of trouble, and is very much at the heart of the controversy. But by any fair measure, Cuccinelli has some explaining to do as well.

Indeed, it’s his unusual investment strategy that’s raising eyebrows.

Star Scientific was Mr. Cuccinelli’s only stock holding worth more than $10,000 since he became attorney general, according to his disclosure forms. In at least two cases, his buying and selling was closely timed to vacations he and his family enjoyed as guests of Mr. Williams. […]

For a relative novice at stock picking, Mr. Cuccinelli’s investment in Star Scientific was highly unusual. It is a thinly traded stock in a company that has lost money for a decade.

The timeline of events is fascinating. In 2010, shortly after taking office, Cuccinelli takes advantage of the lovely accommodations at Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams’s multi-million-dollar home in Richmond. The same year, Cuccinelli buys Star Scientific stock, followed soon after by a vacation at Williams’s vacation house.

In 2011, Star Scientific faced a hefty $1.7 million tax bill from Virginia, and the company contested the bill in court. It’s Cuccinelli’s state A.G. office that was responsible for defending Virginia in the case. A few months later, Cuccinelli bought more Star Scientific stock and took another trip to Williams’ vacation house.

In 2012, after another sojourn to Williams’ lake house, Cuccinelli started selling Star Scientific stock at a profit, despite the fact that his office was engaged in litigation with the company at the time.

Oh, and did I mention that Cuccinelli neglected to mention Williams’ generosity on his public-disclosure forms? And delayed disclosing his ownership of Star Scientific stock?

Insisting that this controversy is “personal to the governor” seems like a stretch.