We’ve been following Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli (R) and the questions surrounding his role in the Jonnie Williams/Star Scientific scandal, and yesterday, there was a fairly important development. An independent investigator issued a report saying that the far-right state Attorney General did not, in fact, violate state ethics rules by failing to disclose various gifts he received from Williams.
But if all you read is the headline – “Investigators Clear Virginia’s Cuccinelli in Ethics Probe” – you’re going to miss some key details. For example, the same report notes that Cuccinelli, far from doing nothing to help his generous benefactor, may have helped Williams after all.
Star sued the state to reverse a $1.7 million tax bill in 2011, shortly before Cuccinelli made a second, $10,000 investment in its shares and before the attorney general asked Williams if his family could stay for a third time at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake vacation home.
Cuccinelli has said he never talked to Williams about the lawsuit, though he has said Williams had earlier complained about the disputed taxes.
The attorney general told the ethics investigators “that he may have suggested that Williams contact a certain attorney at a Richmond law firm ‘to assist him and his company with the Tobacco Fund,’ ” according to a report issued by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, quoting an investigators’ findings.
So, Williams sued Virginia, and it was up Cuccinelli to defend the state in the case. It was around this time that Cuccinelli started buying stock in Williams’ company and taking trips to Williams’ lovely vacation home. And it was also around this time that Cuccinelli “may have” offered legal advice to Williams, too.
The report issued yesterday added, “[O]ne cannot help but question whether [Cuccinelli’s] repeated omissions of Williams [in his disclosure forms] are coincidence or a pattern reflecting intent to conceal.”
Given all of this, why is Cuccinelli off the hook? Probably because Virginia has pretty weak ethics laws, making it easier to get away with dubious conduct.
The entirety of the report issued yesterday is online here (pdf).