Herring said Thursday that he had found no criminal wrongdoing over the course of his nearly three-month investigation. Yet he also hinted at an appearance problem that still threatens to dog Cuccinelli throughout the governor’s race against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
“Although one cannot help but question whether repeated omissions of gifts from [Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr.] are coincidence or a pattern reflecting intent to conceal, the disclosure of several other gifts and benefits from Williams in his original statements suggests that the Attorney General was not attempting to conceal the relationship,” Herring wrote in a report on his investigation. “Furthermore, we find no evidence that in his statements the AG intentionally mischaracterized gifts and benefits from Star Scientific and Williams.”
Herring’s conclusions, released in an e-mail Thursday, could help Cuccinelli fend off criticism from Democrats and others that his omissions undermine his integrity, one of his top selling points as a blunt-talking conservative.
Yet Cuccinelli could have trouble completely extricating himself from the matter, particularly with the embezzlement case of the former governor’s mansion chef, scheduled go to trial three weeks before Election Day.
Chef Todd Schneider, accused of pilfering mansion food, has tried to defend himself by blowing the whistle on lavish, undisclosed gifts that Williams provided to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who is term-limited, and the McDonnell family. The chef has accused Cuccinelli of turning a blind eye to that alleged wrongdoing because of his own ties to Williams.
Cuccinelli has said that his reporting lapses were inadvertent oversights and that his staff had kept him “walled off” from the chef’s allegations against Williams and McDonnell until last fall, when the attorney general asked Herring to investigate the governor’s disclosures. That inquiry is continuing, as is a separate federal investigation into Williams’s relationship with the McDonnells.
Hours after Herring released his findings, McDonnell’s office released an “external report” of its own. It found that Williams, Star Scientific and affiliated companies had not received any state contracts, awards or gubernatorial appointments — something McDonnell has said for months.
Although billed as independent, the review was conducted by Tony Troy, a private lawyer hired at taxpayer expense to represent McDonnell in the chef case because Cuccinelli has been recused from that duty.
Troy’s report provided a previously unknown example of Star Scientific officials trying to promote the company’s product through state channels. It said that a salesman for the company met last year with Sara Wilson, director of the Department of Human Resource Management, to request “that the Commonwealth consider placing a Star Scientific product, Anatabloc, on a list of items available to state employees under the state health plan. Ms. Wilson denied this request.”