Records show Star did not ultimately get funding from the tobacco commission. And a spokesman for McDonnell’s attorney and an attorney for Maureen McDonnell denied that either the governor or his wife agreed to try to help Star get the money.
The effort to win commission funding is of keen interest to prosecutors as one piece of a possible pattern in which McDonnell and his wife offered to assist the company in 2011 and 2012, according to people with knowledge of what Williams has told investigators. That is the same time frame in which the McDonnell family received the gifts and money.
Under federal law, it can be illegal for elected officials to agree to take official actions in exchange for gifts or money — even if they do not ultimately follow through on their promises or have the power to do so.
The new information comes as McDonnell’s defense against potential criminal charges for his dealings with Williams has come into focus:
McDonnell has acknowledged that his family took more than $150,000 worth of gifts and cash the governor has said were loans from Williams. But his legal team says that any claims from Williams that the governor agreed to help the businessman or his company in exchange for the gifts are not credible.
“The governor never asked or directed anyone . . . to assist Star Scientific in obtaining research funding from the Virginia Tobacco Fund,” spokesman Jason Miyares said in a written statement. “Also, the Governor never told anyone at Star Scientific that he would try to help the company get funding from the Tobacco Commission.”
A key question for prosecutors is who is most believable about the interactions between the governor and Williams.
Federal prosecutors have been investigating the largess that Williams has provided to the McDonnell family, which included the cash, vacations, golf outings and gear, a $15,000 shopping trip in New York for the first lady, $15,000 in catering for the wedding of one of the governor’s daughters, a $10,000 engagement gift for another and a Rolex watch Williams purchased for the governor.
As part of their investigation of the governor, prosecutors have spent months conducting interviews and gathering documents to determine whether there is evidence to corroborate Williams’s account.