Just when it seemed the ongoing scandal in Virginia couldn’t get worse for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), another shoe drops.
Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the wealthy nutritional supplement maker at the center of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s gifts scandal, met with Virginia’s health secretary to pitch his product at the recommendation of the governor, according to an e-mail his assistant wrote the day of the November 2010 meeting.
“This email is to confirm a meeting between Jonnie Williams and Secretary Bill Hazel on Thursday, November 4th at 9:00 am,” Monica Block, McDonnell’s scheduler, wrote to Williams’s assistant in a message two days before he sat down with Hazel, the state’s secretary of health and human resources.
The e-mails, obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, are the first indication that McDonnell (R) directly intervened on behalf of Williams, whose gifts of luxury items and five-figure payments and loans to the McDonnell family have triggered state and federal investigations.
This is, in case you were wondering, separate from the meeting McDonnell’s wife arranged with state health officials in August 2011 – the one at which the governor’s wife recommended Williams buy a Rolex for her husband “moments before” the meeting took place.
Now, you might be wondering why this new revelation about the governor’s email matters so much. So he directly intervened to arrange a meeting between his scandal-plagued benefactor and Virginia’s health secretary; is that important?
It really is. Because if there was a quid pro quo, the email helps highlight the quo that goes with the quid.
Remember, as far as McDonnell is concerned, the scandal has been exaggerated because as he put it last week, Star Scientific “received nothing” in exchange for Williams’ generosity.
Sure, McDonnell and his family received $145,000 in unreported cash, an engraved Rolex watch, the designer clothes, a lake house vacation, and use of a Ferrari, among other things, but so long as the governor did nothing in exchange, we would simply be left to wonder why Jonnie Williams was so remarkably generous towards Virginia’s first family while getting nothing in return.
The problem is, McDonnell’s defense is quickly falling apart. As Rachel explained last week after the governor first offered this explanation:
“Nothing? Nothing except a launch party for the magic tobacco pill that’s made by the CEO’s company, a launch party held at the governor’s mansion and hosted by the governor and the first lady. They still have the press release up on their Web site, bragging about how their product launch was being held at the Virginia’s governor mansion today. So, this company didn’t get nothing from the Virginia governor. They got that. And they got the first lady of Virginia touting the benefits of the magic tobacco pill at multiple events both inside Virginia and outside Virginia. Her, traveling around the country helping tout the benefits of the company’s product and they got a top level meeting with Virginia state health officials for the magic tobacco pill company CEO. Where the CEO was able to pitch his idea of a Virginia state funded study of his magic pills benefits to the state. And they also got another meeting with the state secretary of health, a meeting with the cabinet secretary that was set up either by the governor’s office directly or by the governor’s wife. And that seemingly would never have happened without the governor or the first lady intervening to make that meeting happen, since the health secretary says himself the magic tobacco pill was not ready for prime time. But, yes, governor McDonnell, other than the one on one meeting with the cabinet secretary and the other meeting with the health official that you set up and the launch party for the magic tobacco pill. The governor’s mansion which you attended and your wife attended and other that this picture of you as Virginia governor holding a bottle of the magic tobacco pills and your wife traveling around the country touting the magic tobacco pill, yes, other than that – really nothing.”
And as of this morning, we now know they also got the governor to personally and directly intervene with Virginia’s health secretary on Williams’ behalf.
McDonnell still has about six months left before his term ends. Anyone care to guess whether he remains in office that long?