Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday he plans to return all the gifts a donor supplied Virginia’s first family — ending months of legal wrangling and a smattering of calls for his resignation.
For months, the Republican governor has said he’s done nothing illegal — Virginia law does not require the disclosure of gifts to family members — and that neither Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. nor his company were ever given undue influence. But Tuesday’s announcement, coupled with his recent revelations that he’s repaid nearly $125,000 for loans to his wife and a real estate company he runs jointly with his sister, marked a sudden, aggressive effort to make amends for any perceived wrongdoing.
“I think it’s important to say that I take responsibility for all my actions, and the ones that I feel that in any way undermine the trust of Virginians, ” Mr. McDonnell said on WTOP Radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. “I take personal responsibility, and I’m deeply sorry for things that I have done or choices that, perhaps, members of my family have made that have hurt that trust, because I’ve built it for 37 years.”
Many people inside and outside the state have been stunned that Mr. McDonnell, a potential vice presidential pick or Cabinet selection for a would-be President Mitt Romney, ended up mired by the ever-growing list of lavish gifts and loans from Mr. Williams that have emerged publicly.
Earlier this month, state Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, urged Mr. McDonnell to “come clean” by disclosing any unreported gifts and return them or sell them and donate the money to the state literary fund, or step down as governor.
“I take zero joy in staking out this position,” Mr. Petersen wrote on his blog, Ox Road South, at the time. “I’ve known [the governor] for twelve years, including four years in the House of Delegates. I always found him to be sincere in his dealings, forthright in his statements, and unfailingly courteous. I still can’t believe that he would permit this type of dealings in his household. That’s why the Star Scientific reports are such a shock.”
Mr. McDonnell said he did not know about some of the gifts to his family at the time they were given. His wife, Maureen, had received a $6,500 Rolex watch from Mr. Williams to give to her husband as a gift, as well as a $15,000 shopping spree in New York City from the executive.
Mr. McDonnell also said his daughter, Jeanine, already returned a wedding gift from Mr. Williams, which has been reported to be a $10,000 check to help defray costs.
“I was not in a role of promoting Star Scientific,” he said. “I don’t want any citizen to think that in any way these gifts have created undue influence.”
An independent report from former state Attorney General Anthony F. Troy, a Democrat, concluded that Mr. McDonnell broke no state laws and showed no evidence that Mr. Williams ever received any direct benefits.
Virginia politicians are permitted to accept unlimited gifts, as long as they are properly disclosed. The governor did not disclose the gifts to members his family, which also include a $15,000 check to cover costs associated with Mr. McDonnell’s daughter Cailin’s wedding.
After Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who is running to succeed Mr. McDonnell, cited conflicts of interest in recusing himself from a case involving embezzlement charges against the former chef of the Executive Mansion, the state was billed about $54,000 for the governor’s legal expenses. Mr. Cuccinelli appointed Mr. Troy to defend Mr. McDonnell at the taxpayer’s expense.
Mr. Cuccinelli also has admitted to accepting a $3,000 vacation stay and a $1,500 Thanksgiving retreat and dinner at Mr. Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake vacation home.
Some of the gifts to Mr. Cuccinelli went unreported until he updated financial disclosure statements from 2009 to 2012 to reflect both the gifts and stock ownership in Mr. Williams’ company. An investigation by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.
Still, the campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe repeated its call on Tuesday for Mr. Cuccinelli to return the gifts he’s received from Mr. Williams.
“On the heels of the news that Cuccinelli’s conflict of interest has already cost taxpayers more than $50,000 in legal fees, it’s the least Cuccinelli can do to return all of his gifts,” said McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin.
Anna Nix, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cuccinelli, said that Mr. McAuliffe’s lecturing anyone on gifts is “laughable,” calling on him to repay millions of dollars he’s made in his own controversial business deals and explain his role in trying to secure visas for foreigners looking to invest in the sister corporation of GreenTech Automotive, his former car company.
“Ken Cuccinelli has always run an open and honest campaign for governor, while Terry continues to use scare tactics to distract voters from his deceitful statements, broken promises of job creation and shady financial history,” she said.