McDonnell announced that he was returning the gifts one week after apologizing for the scandal and disclosing that he had repaid $120,000 in loans that Williams provided: $70,000 to a real estate company owned by the governor and his sister and $50,000 to first lady Maureen McDonnell. (Related: What was given to the McDonnells
McDonnell’s remarks on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program were his first about the gifts and loans since last week’s written announcement, issued as he was en route to Afghanistan to visit Virginia troops. He struck a tone Tuesday that was by turns contrite and defiant — one moment vowing to “restore trust with the people of Virginia,” the next noting that his Democratic predecessors had also received gifts. He said he was trying to regain the commonwealth’s faith but seemed reluctant at times to concede that there had been anything inappropriate in his interactions with Williams that would have caused him to lose it.
“I have made as sincere an apology as I can to people who looked at my judgments or my actions or those of my family with regard to these loans and said that I am deeply sorry if I — for breaching the trust between the citizens,” he said.
With about five months left in his term, McDonnell is trying to move past the controversy even as it remains the subject of state and federal probes. It has consumed the administration since late March, when The Washington Post first reported that the governor and first lady had promoted Star’s nutritional supplement about the time Williams paid the $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of one of the McDonnells’ daughters.
Attention to the McDonnells’ ties to Williams has grown since then, with The Post reporting that the Star executive also provided a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor, a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping trip for the first lady and a $10,000 engagement gift to another daughter. Investigators are also looking into whether Maureen McDonnell received free cosmetic dental work from a Richmond area dentist and jewelry from a state delegate, people familiar with the investigation have told The Post.
The radio interview yielded the governor’s most extensive statements on those gifts and the effect they have had on his legacy, family and administration. At one point, he defended the first lady, saying: “She’s probably been the most active first lady that I’ve seen in the 22 years I’ve been in office. I could go on with the list of the things that she has done.”
But when asked about her work promoting Star’s product, he said, “Ultimately, the first lady makes her own schedule.”