- Associated Press - Thursday, April 25, 2013

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II moved to withdraw his office Wednesday from prosecuting embezzlement charges against the former chef at the governor’s mansion, citing an unspecified conflict of interest in the ongoing case.

Within minutes, the attorney for the former chef, Todd Schneider, filed an objection to Mr. Cuccinelli’s bid to withdraw, calling it an effort to deny or delay his client access to evidence about whether Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s family took items from the mansion kitchen.

Mr. Schneider faces trial in July on four counts of taking state property worth $200 or more in the last half of 2011 and early 2012. He headed the Virginia executive mansion kitchen operations from 2010, when Mr. McDonnell moved in, until last year, when he was dismissed after a state police inquiry began into purported improprieties in the mansion’s kitchen.

Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican candidate for governor this year, asked the Richmond Circuit Court on Wednesday to recuse his office in the widening investigation and appoint Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert as a special prosecutor.

The two-page filing says Cuccinelli’s office determined it “has a conflict of interest in the continued investigation and prosecution of this matter.” It does not elaborate on the nature of the conflict.

It also asks the court to indefinitely delay deadlines in the trial calendar.

Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein accused Mr. Schneider’s attorneys of attempting to politicize the investigation with their motion’s implication of wrongdoing by the McDonnells.

“When the details of the defense’s discovery motion emerged yesterday, it was very evident that defense counsel was looking to reach beyond the embezzlement charges and instead politicize this case,” he said.

He also said an explanation of the conflict of interest would await a May 2 hearing on the recusal motion.

“Until then, we can’t comment any further on a case we are still litigating,” Mr. Gottstein said.

Attorney Stephen D. Benjamin’s objection to the recusal motion, filed late Wednesday afternoon, attacks its lack of detail about the conflict of interest and questions why the attorney general’s office never raised conflict-of-interest concerns until the day after Mr. Schneider sought evidence about possible wrongdoing at the executive mansion.

“Only after these motions were filed did the attorney general assert a conflict of interest and attempt to stay the proceedings, including its deadline for complying with the requested discovery,” Mr. Benjamin wrote in Wednesday’s pleading.