McDonnell’s defense team spokesman departs

September 13, 2013

The spokesman for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s criminal defense team, hired in July as the governor switched attorneys and adopted a more aggressive public relations strategy, announced Friday that he was leaving the position.

Rich Galen had promoted McDonnell (R) as someone busily going about the work of governing even as state and federal investigators were investigating his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a Virginia businessman who lavished gifts and money on the McDonnell family.

“I originally signed on to take the effort through Labor Day assuming no further action on the part of the government,” Galen said in an e-mail announcing his departure. “I stayed on for an additional two weeks pending the previously announced departure of U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride.”

MacBride’s office has been investigating McDonnell’s ties to Williams, chief executive of nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific, who provided the McDonnell family with luxury items and $120,000 in money that the governor has described as loans. MacBride announced last month that he was stepping down, effective Friday.

Legal observers have speculated that in order to avoid the appearance of political motivation, any indictment of the governor would have needed to come before Labor Day or after November, when voters choose his successor. MacBride’s planned departure led some to believe that charges — or a decision not to charge — might be timed to coincide with his exit.

McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell promoted Star’s product, Anatabloc, around the time that he provided the gifts. The governor has apologized for embarrassing the commonwealth and returned a Rolex watch, designer clothes and money, but said he never provided any state favors to Williams or Star.

Galen, who was press secretary for Dan Quayle when he was a senator from Indiana and political communications director for Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the House, cautioned against reading anything into his own departure.

Asked if his leaving meant that an indictment is not expected anytime soon, Galen said: “[It] means what it says. I agreed to stay on through Labor Day, but extended until today.”

He said Jason Miyares, a Virginia Beach lawyer who helped establish a legal defense fund for McDonnell, will serve as spokesman. Miyares said he has been assisting with McDonnell’s defense in a paid capacity since early August and will continue to do so.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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