The McDonnells paid back Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. $52,278.17 for a $50,000 loan made to first lady Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and $71,837 for $70,000 provided last year to a real estate company the governor owns with his sister.
The announcement represents the first time McDonnell has expressed regret or said he and his family have embarrassed the state by accepting Williams’s largess, which has included gifts first reported by The Washington Post in March. The executive also provided the family with luxury items, a $10,000 engagement gift for one daughter and $15,000 in wedding catering for another. McDonnell’s statement referred only to the loans, but his daughter Jeanine has returned the $10,000 engagement gift, said someone familiar with the transaction who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
McDonnell’s repayment and apology appear to signal a shift in strategy since the governor brought on a new legal and public relations team this month to handle federal and state investigations into the family’s relationship to Williams and a few other gift-givers. The move comes less than a week after McDonnell released what was billed as an “external report” — one prepared, at state expense, by a lawyer representing him — that concluded that Star Scientific received no state contracts or other benefits from state government.
The governor’s move will not help him legally if federal prosecutors conclude that he swapped state favors for loans and gifts from Williams, said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor.
“Repayment of the loan may be an important political gesture, but it makes no difference as to the intent in play at the time of receipt of the loan,” Frenkel said.
But it could help repair the public image of someone who has plunged from 2016 presidential hopeful to someone ensnared in twin investigations.
The statement, which did not suggest that the governor has returned any gifts from Williams, was issued in a week when he has had one public event on his schedule: a closed visit Monday to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. McDonnell’s spokesman declined to disclose the governor’s whereabouts Tuesday, saying only, “He has been busy with state business all day.”
McDonnell’s statement fell short of what Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax) has been calling on him to do: return the gifts and explain them to the public or resign.