McDonnell (R) also repaid the state $80 for a March 2011 shopping trip to Ellwood Thompson’s, a Richmond natural foods store, where state records show the McDonnells put a digestive system cleanse, cherry-flavored sleep elixir and a variety of vitamins on the mansion Visa card. Those non-grocery products added up to more than $200; the McDonnells only partially reimbursed the state at the time, with a check for $117.
Attorney Tony Troy said the children had taken “de minimis” — minimal — amounts, likening the situation to his own college years, when his Italian mother never sent him back to school without a cold meatball sandwich.
“Every family treats their children like that,” Troy said. “The first family shouldn’t be treated any differently.”
The Washington Post reported in June that McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell had used taxpayer money to pay for a number of small personal items, including those purchased at Ellwood Thompson’s. McDonnell at the time called the report false and misleading.
Troy’s comment was the most vociferous defense provided for McDonnell since the former mansion chef, himself charged with embezzling from the mansion kitchen, alleged in court documents that the governor’s children had taken large quantities of food, alcohol and even pots and pans from the mansion kitchen.
It came as defense attorneys for chef Todd Schneider and prosecutors strictly observed a gag order that prevents them from publicly discussing all but the most basic information about the Schneider case, such as the schedule for court dates.
“If it’s interesting, I can’t comment,” Steven Benjamin, who, along with Betty Layne DesPortes, is representing Schneider, told reporters outside the courthouse. In court, Benjamin asked the judge to vacate the gag order, arguing it has put him at a disadvantage as Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) discusses the case publicly. The judge denied the request.
Troy is a private attorney hired at state expense to represent McDonnell (R) and his office in matters related to the chef’s case after Cuccinelli’s office was recused from both prosecuting Schneider and representing the governor in the matter. McDonnell, the subject of federal and state investigations related to gifts to himself and family members, also has a private attorney, Emmet T. Flood, a former White House special counsel.
Troy made his comments following an afternoon court hearing on a motion to dismiss the case. Benjamin argued that Cuccinelli’s conflicts of interest had irrevocably tainted the case. Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer said that she would rule on that matter by the end of the week.