- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2013

Neither embezzlement charges against Virginia’s former Executive Mansion chef nor ongoing federal and state investigations into Gov. Bob McDonnell’s gift disclosures will be enough to weigh down the gubernatorial campaign of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, political observers say.

At least not yet.

A Virginia judge said Monday she would rule this week on whether to proceed with felony embezzlement charges against Todd Schneider, who served as chef for the governor from 2010 to 2012.

Mr. Schneider is accused of stealing food from the mansion kitchen and has countered by saying he was told to take food as payment for catering events.

Defense lawyers argued the case should be dismissed because Mr. Cuccinelli had a conflict of interest when Mr. Schneider told the attorney general’s office last year about a $15,000 payment from businessman Jonnie Williams to cover wedding costs for one of the governor’s daughters.

The attorney general’s office defends the governor in lawsuits, and Mr. Cuccinelli eventually recused himself from the case. In November, he asked Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring to look into Mr. McDonnell’s financial disclosures. Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory D. Underwood, appointed to handle the Schneider case, says that move has quashed any possible conflict.

Mr. McDonnell has said the payment was a gift for his daughter so he was not required to disclose it under Virginia’s financial disclosure laws.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said granting motions to dismiss in criminal cases are rare — but this is not a typical case.

“I guess what’s not clear is what the voters think of all this. We just don’t know yet,” he said. “I don’t know yet. I don’t think anybody knows.”

In Norfolk on Monday, Mr. Cuccinelli told The Associated Press that the case doesn’t involve him, so he’s not worried about how it might affect his campaign.

A spokesman for the campaign of Mr. Cuccinelli’s opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, pointed out that Mr. Cuccinelli himself also forgot to disclose gifts from Mr. Williams.

“It is a good thing Ken Cuccinelli wasn’t under oath” when talking about the case, McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

Trial dates are scheduled for mid-October, just weeks before the November elections — complicating GOP hopes for a smooth handoff of power from Mr. McDonnell to Mr. Cuccinelli.

Former Virginia Govs. George Allen, a Republican, and Mark R. Warner, a Democrat currently serving in the U.S. Senate, are the only governors in more than two decades to hand the keys to the mansion to successors in their own party after their constitutionally mandated single four-year terms. Mr. Allen, whose 1993 campaign stressed job creation and law-and-order issues, oversaw tremendous economic growth in the state and effectively abolished parole. In 1997, former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, coasted to victory with 56 percent of the vote.

Mr. Warner, meanwhile, left office in 2006 with high approval ratings, and many voters who supported current Sen. Tim Kaine in the 2005 gubernatorial contest saw themselves voting in part for a second Warner term, said Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state.

Complicating things for Mr. McDonnell, his office had to beat back sudden rumors over the weekend that he was about to resign after the conservative blog Bearing Drift said a plea deal involving a resignation was in the works.

On Monday, Mr. McDonnell told WWBT-TV in Richmond that such resignation claims are a “really, really bad rumor that you shouldn’t pay attention to.”

And despite issues with Mr. Williams and Star Scientific Inc., the nutrition supplement company he runs, recent opinion polls show Virginia voters still giving Mr. McDonnell high marks.

In polls since May conducted by The Washington Post, NBC/Marist and the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling firm, Mr. McDonnell has averaged a 56.3 percent approval rating compared to a 29.3 percent disapproval rating — a net positive of 27 percentage points.

Not so fast, Mr. Goldman said.

“Anybody who thinks they know how this thing will turn out politically ” he began, before trailing off. “Everything depends on what the facts are.”

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