The e-mails, obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, are the first indication that McDonnell (R) directly intervened on behalf of Williams, whose gifts of luxury items and five-figure payments and loans to the McDonnell family have triggered state and federal investigations.
Until now, only first lady Maureen McDonnell was known to have taken direct steps to promote Anatabloc, the nutritional supplement produced by Williams’s firm, Star Scientific. She had touted it at a Florida investors conference and arranged a product-launch party at the governor’s mansion, which the governor also attended.
In an interview Wednesday, Hazel said it was not immediately clear to him what Williams hoped to get out of the meeting. After it had already taken place, McDonnell directly asked him to talk to Williams.
“The governor said, ‘Will you talk to my wife’s friend?’ ” Hazel said. “And I said, ‘I have spoken with him. But I don’t know what he wants.’ ”
On the day of the November 2010 meeting with Hazel, Williams’s executive assistant said in an e-mail that McDonnell had suggested the get-together.
“Jonnie spoke with the Governor recently about a new product that Star Scientific, Inc. is developing that has the potential to save Virginia citizens money on health care,” wrote Jerri M. Fulkerson, Williams’s assistant. “The Governor told Jonnie he needs to speak to Dr. Hazel in reference to this.”
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said there was nothing unusual about the governor asking a state official to talk with someone.
“Whether it be on his radio shows, at events or anywhere he goes, Virginians are always asking the governor about issues or challenges or proposals that they may have,” Martin said. “We try to be responsive. Any matters that should be properly handled by a specific agency or secretariat are directed to their attention and handled as a matter of routine business.”
Hazel said he often meets with corporate leaders at the request of the governor’s office.
“They’re selling new ideas, and part of the job is to sift through and listen to it and try to make a decision about whether it is useful or not,” he said.
Williams gave $145,000 to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012. He provided $70,000 to a corporation owned by the governor and his sister and $50,000 as a loan to Maureen McDonnell. He also paid for the catering at the wedding of one of McDonnell’s daughters and gave a $10,000 gift to another daughter before her wedding.