Virginia Republican GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli has been cleared of any legal wrongdoing in the growing scandal around gifts from a major GOP donor with ties to the attorney general and the incumbent Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and his allies have sought to tie Cuccinelli to investigations into gifts he and McDonnell received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., who is at the center of a growing scandal in Virginia over his relationship with McDonnell and his family. Cucinelli admitted earlier this year to accepting gifts from Williams, including stays at his waterfront property and a catered Thanksgiving dinner, and he owned stock in Star Scientific. Cuccinelli has since sold that stock and amended his disclosures.
On Thursday, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring said in report from an independent investigation, requested by Cuccinelli himself into his state financial disclosure forms, that he found no evidence Cuccinelli broke the law after failing to disclose stock holdings and gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., who’s at the center of a growing scandal in Virginia over his relationship with McDonnell and his family.
Herring wrote that while “one cannot help but question whether repeated omissions of gifts from Williams are coincidence or a pattern reflecting intent to conceal, the disclosure of several other gifts and benefits from Williams in his original statements suggests that the Attorney General was not attempting to conceal the relationship.”
“Furthermore, we find no evidence that in his statements the AG intentionally mischaracterized gifts and benefits from Star Scientific and Williams,” Herring wrote in his report.
“This review vindicates what I have said all along,” Cuccinelli said in a statement issued by his office. “There was no legal requirement to refer my own filings to a commonwealth’s attorney to review, but I did it because I wanted to be completely transparent with the public.”
But Democrats argued the state’s lax ethics laws were the reason the GOP nominee avoided legal trouble.
“Ken Cuccinelli avoided prosecution for disguising his conflict of interest with Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams because of Virginia’s extraordinarily weak ethics laws,” Virginia Democratic Party spokesman Brian Coy said in a statement. “Given his pattern of ‘forgetting’ to disclose stocks and gifts from financial patrons whose lawsuits over unpaid taxes are sitting in his office, it’s no wonder that Cuccinelli won’t accept Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to ban gifts and give our ethics laws real teeth.”
Polls continue to show a tight race between the two candidates, who will meet this Saturday for their first debate ahead of the November contest. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows McAuliffe with a slight 43%-39% lead over Cuccinelli, fueled in part by McAuliffe’s lead among women, 48%-32%, and among African-Americans, 73%-7%. Cuccinelli leads with men, 46%-38% and white voters, 48%-36%. A Roanoke College survey put Cuccinelli narrowly ahead, 37%-31%, but with 27% of respondents undecided.
The Quinnipiac survey also showed that 42% of respondents said they had heard a lot about federal and state investigations into McDonnell’s relationship with Williams. While 49% said they still didn’t know enough about the matter, 27% said they believed it was a serious matter, up from just 12% in May. A 41% plurality said they weren’t satisfied over how McDonnell has handled the controversy, but 61% also said they didn’t believe he should resign.