McDonnell mum on other possible gifts from Star Scientific head

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell declined to say Monday whether Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who paid for catering expenses at the wedding of the governor’s daughter, had provided other gifts to the McDonnell family.

“Mr. Williams gave my daughter a wedding present,” McDonnell (R) said in response to a question about gifts to other family members. “And as you know, under the reporting laws, the gifts that come to me, I report. And I’ve been doing this for 22 years. Gifts that come to me, I regularly and diligently report those on the statement of economics interests that are done annually. But gifts that come to other family members under the current law are not reportable.”

McDonnell’s comments marked the first time that he has personally addressed questions about the gifts and his relationship to Williams. He has previously responded only to written questions from The Washington Post and other news organizations.

McDonnell was asked about other gifts while gathering with reporters after a presentation about a reading program for Richmond schools. After his response, the governor’s staff signaled that his press availability was over.

Williams paid the $15,000 catering tab for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding, which took place in the governor’s mansion in June 2011.

Under Virginia law, public officials may accept gifts but must disclose any worth $50 or more. McDonnell never disclosed the gift but said there was no need because it was given to his daughter, not to him.

Three days before her daughter’s June wedding, first lady Maureen McDonnell traveled to Florida to speak at a seminar for scientists and investors interested in Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement derived from a substance in tobacco that is sold by Williams’s company. The McDonnells hosted an event at the mansion that August to launch the product.

The company, which has made major contributions to McDonnell’s campaigns, is the subject of a federal securities investigation and several shareholder lawsuits.

McDonnell also defended his efforts and those of his wife to promote the company, saying they have taken steps to boost other Virginia businesses. The McDonnells leave this week for a trade mission to California and Asia.

“It’s a Virginia publicly traded company,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things with publicly traded companies in Virginia and I can say ... the core mission of our administration has been promoting jobs, economic development, creating new opportunities. And we do that with a lot of Virginia companies. I think I’ve done, probably 275 events for Virginia businesses around the state around the country, around the world. That’s what I’m doing the next couple of days [on the trade mission]. I’ll be promoting a lot of Virginia businesses there.

He said that promoting Star dovetailed with Maureen McDonnell’s priorities, known as First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort or FLITE.

“As you know my wife, through her FLITE program — you ought to look at her Web site — but it’s very clear her four pillars, the things that she’s interested in doing, were economic development and job creation, it was promotion of health and wellness, taking care of veterans, women in business. And so, that’s the things that she’s been able to accomplish ... I think we’ve had, gosh, 225 or [2]30 different events at the mansion since I’ve been governor. ...

“So i think I can say that what we do in my office is, regardless of somebody’s status or donations, if we find an opportunity to be able to promote business and create jobs and find opportunities for Virginians, then we do that. That’s what my wife has done as first lady, that’s what I’ve done routinely as governor.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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