Former federal prosecutor joins McDonnell’s legal team

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has hired a former U.S. attorney and a veteran press secretary to provide him with legal and public relations advice amid a deepening gifts scandal.

John Brownlee, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, will join McDonnell’s legal defense team. Rich Galen, who was press secretary for then-Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) and political communications director for then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), will serve as senior communications adviser to the privately financed legal team.

Galen declined to say whether Emmet T. Flood of Williams & Connolly, a Washington powerhouse firm, was still on McDonnell’s legal team. Flood, who in the past has represented Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, directed all questions to Galen.

“I don’t have anything on the rest of the legal team,” said Galen, who confirmed the hirings, first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “When we have the team totally in place, I’ll call back and tell you who’s doing what.”

Galen said he will field reporters’ questions about federal and state investigations, which center on luxury gifts and five-figure payments or loans that McDonnell (R), first lady Maureen McDonnell and their children have received from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Galen said his hiring will relieve Tucker Martin, the governor’s state-funded communications director, of that duty.

“It became obvious that Tucker Martin had to focus on the official work of the office of the governor, and they needed somebody else to deal with all of these other issues,” Galen said.

The new spokesman and the legal team will be paid with private funds, Galen said. Asked whether a legal defense fund had been established for McDonnell, Galen said, “I don’t believe there is one at this point.”

Phil Cox, director of the governor’s Opportunity Virginia political action committee, said PAC funds were not being used for McDonnell’s legal team.

“The PAC is not paying,” Cox said.

McDonnell has been under scrutiny since The Washington Post reported in March that Williams had paid the $15,000 catering bill at the June 2011 wedding of Cailin McDonnell, one of the governor’s daughters.

Federal and state investigators also have been probing other gifts from Williams, including a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree for the first lady. They are investigating monetary gifts or loans, including $70,000 to a real estate corporation owned by the governor and his sister, $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell, and $10,000 to another daughter, Jeanine McDonnell, before her wedding in May.

The McDonnells have promoted the nutritional supplement made by Williams company, Star Scientific, but the governor said their efforts were in line with boosting state businesses.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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