In a letter to the governor, Petersen wrote that revelations about gifts provided by dietary supplement manufacturer Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave “the strong impression that your family was materially and systematically benefited by this person and his company.”
“In return, it appears you allowed this person to use the Governor’s Mansion and the Governor’s Office for the purpose of giving unique credibility to his company,” Petersen wrote in the letter. “That is unacceptable.”
Petersen wrote that if the governor can’t explain or deny the reports or return the items, he would “humbly suggest” that McDonnell step down.
Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor, called the letter “blatantly political” and “not unexpected,” citing a blog post from Petersen questioning why Democrats did not joke about the Williams situation at a major annual fundraiser Saturday.
Petersen’s call comes as anxiety has deepened in Richmond over the growing controversy, which has sparked state and federal investigations.
One Republican lawmaker said Tuesday that there is now “concern” among his colleagues about the effectiveness of McDonnell for the rest of his term. Another Republican said GOP legislators are “appalled.” Both lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could speak freely about the governor.
“It’s just embarrassing,” the GOP lawmaker said. “Why wouldn’t they be jumping up and down about this?” the Republican said of Democrats. “Every time I see something new on this, I just think, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ ”
But those sentiments are being expressed among Republicans only quietly, to avoid deepening the governor’s troubles.
And Democrats have been virtually silent about McDonnell, even as they have hammered Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the GOP nominee for governor, over his ties to the same donor.
A spokesman for the state Democratic Party, Brian Coy, did not directly address whether party leaders agreed with Petersen’s call, instead indicating that McDonnell should “address questions and cooperate with the two ongoing investigations.”
A spokesman for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor, noted that McAuliffe has called for a ban on gifts valued at more than $100 but also declined to join Petersen’s effort.
“There are ongoing investigations that will provide concrete facts and evidence so that Virginians know exactly what happened,” spokesman Josh Schwerin said.
Williams paid $15,000 for the catering at the 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter. Authorities are also investigating whether Williams provided tens of thousands of dollars in additional payments to members of the McDonnell family, as well as gifts of high-end clothing, according to people familiar with the inquiry.