Threat of prosecution looms over Virginia’s McDonnell

Threat of prosecution looms over Virginia's McDonnell
Threat of prosecution looms over Virginia's McDonnell
Associated Press

We were supposed to know by now whether Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) corruption scandal would lead to a criminal indictment, and yet, as of this afternoon, the Republican governor’s legal fate is unclear. Why is that? Well, it’s an interesting story, actually.

Prosecutors have now asked the governor’s and first lady’s attorneys to return for a second round of discussions no later than the week of Sept. 15, during which prosecutors are expected to lay out the key elements of the case, said a person familiar with the schedule.

Prosecutors could decide whether to file charges after the meetings, the person said. But the timing is somewhat tricky, because voters go to the polls Nov. 5 to select McDonnell’s successor, and prosecutors may want to avoid a perception that their work is influencing the results, people familiar with the investigation said.

We are, in other words, looking at a story with quite a few moving parts. Federal prosecutors already met with McDonnell and his wife, which was supposed to help dictate whether criminal charges were filed or not. For reasons that are unclear for now, the U.S. Attorney’s office now wants another meeting, but even if an indictment is on track, Election Day in Virginia is exactly nine weeks from today, and prosecutors are sensitive to the larger political context.

That said, the controversy itself is slowly intensifying. Given how serious it looked before, it hardly seemed possible that McDonnell could look even worse.

But over the weekend, the story took an unexpected twist.

The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig and Rosalind Helderman reported:

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was aware of gifts and financial help provided by a wealthy Richmond area businessman during the same months the governor and his wife took steps to help his company, according to people familiar with documents and interviews gathered by federal investigators.

For example, McDonnell (R) was present at a charity auction in 2011 when the chief executive of Star Scientific, which makes a dietary supplement, successfully bid on a fashion tour of New York for the governor’s wife in front of a crowd of onlookers, witnesses said.

Separately, the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., flew the governor and his wife on a weekend trip to Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, over Labor Day weekend last year. And Williams repeatedly allowed the governor, his sons and staff to play golf and buy golf gear at elite Richmond area country clubs, running up more than $7,000 on Williams’s tab, according to the documents turned over to authorities.

Keep in mind, this comes on top of the gifts we already knew about, and according to the information given to federal prosecutors, they’re gifts the governor was well aware of at the time.

Look for more on this on tonight’s show.