Virginia’s McDonnell faces FBI scrutiny

Updated
 
Virginia's McDonnell faces FBI scrutiny
Virginia's McDonnell faces FBI scrutiny
Associated Press

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is wrapping his final months in office, and would no doubt like to leave on a high note, en route to pursuing higher office.

But at this point, instead of spending time with volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire, it looks like Governor Ultrasound will have to spend his time with his attorneys.

FBI agents are conducting interviews about the relationship between Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor’s daughter, according to four people familiar with the questioning.

The agents have been asking associates of the McDonnells about gifts provided to the family by Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and actions the Republican governor and his wife have taken that may have boosted the company, the people said.

Among the topics being explored, they said, is the $15,000 catering bill that Williams paid for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter at Virginia’s historic Executive Mansion. But questions have extended to other, previously undisclosed gifts from Williams to Maureen McDonnell as well, they said.

Now, it’s worth clarifying that the FBI’s interest in McDonnell may be tangential – federal law enforcement has taken an interest in Williams and Star Scientific, and it’s not clear whether officials suspect the governor of any criminal misdeeds.

But that doesn’t make this story any less damaging for McDonnell, whose political career is in severe jeopardy.

Following up on an item from a few weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that McDonnell’s daughter was married in 2011, and the governor said the bride and groom paid for the event. In reality, $15,000 came by way of Williams. McDonnell not only lied about the financing, but he somehow forgot to disclose Williams’ generous gift, as he’s legally required to do.

Complicating matters, shortly before the wedding, McDonnell’s wife attended an event in Florida to endorse Williams’ product, and shortly after the wedding, McDonnell hosted Williams at the governor’s home for a launch party for Williams’ product.

Then, the story got slightly worse.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has said his daughter and her husband paid for their own wedding. So a $15,000 check from a major campaign donor to pay for the food at the affair was a gift to the bride and groom and not to him, and therefore did not have to be publicly disclosed under the law, the governor says.

But documents obtained by The Washington Post show that McDonnell signed the catering contract, making him financially responsible for the 2011 event. The governor made handwritten notes to the caterer in the margins. In addition, the governor paid nearly $8,000 in deposits for the catering.

When the combination of the governor’s deposit and the gift from the donor resulted in an overpayment to the caterer, the refund check of more than $3,500 went to McDonnell’s wife and not to his daughter, her husband or back to the donor.

The new documents suggest that the governor was more involved with the financing of the wedding than he has previously acknowledged.

Some of this is just amusing on a semantics level. McDonnell’s spokesperson said the governor’s daughter paid for the event, and she “paid for it by accepting it as a gift from one of dad’s campaign contributors.”

But some of it is also interesting on a legal level. It’s true that family members of officeholders don’t have to follow the same disclosure requirements as the officeholders themselves, and in this case, McDonnell is arguing he had nothing to do with the $15,000 gift – it went directly from the governor’s donor to the governor’s daughter. The problem is all the evidence that ties McDonnell to the money.

Making matters slightly worse still, last week we learned Williams also paid for some McDonnell vacations. In 2011, the McDonnell family “vacationed at a lake house owned by Williams and drove the executive’s Ferrari from the home, at Smith Mountain Lake southeast of Roanoke, back to Richmond.”

Yep, Ferrari.

I thought I’d also I’d re-up TNR’s Alec MacGillis great piece on the controversy, arguing that the governor “can kiss his 2016 hopes goodbye.”

Romney passed McDonnell over and one rarely hears McDonnell mentioned on the short list of 2016 hopefuls. He did not help his standing with conservatives nationwide when, in the just-completed legislative session, he signed a transportation funding package that raises hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and taxes.”

And now this: Father of the Bride meets Drugstore Cowboy. There’s a sad irony in this denouement. McDonnell’s successful makeover involved transforming himself from a disciple of Jerry Falwell into a model Virginia gentleman, sober and highbrow, in contrast with ideological brawlers like Ken Cuccinelli, the arch-conservative attorney general who is running to succeed him. But there’s nothing sober and highbrow about having a dietary-supplement maker funneling money to your daughter’s wedding. With just months left to go in McDonnell’s term, we must say: Bob, we hardly knew ye. Though who knows, in the years ahead we may see more of you yet – on late-night TV, hawking miracle pills.

And that was written before the FBI became interested in McDonnell’s ties to Williams.

Bob McDonnell and Virginia

Virginia's McDonnell faces FBI scrutiny

Updated