June 28, 2013

VIRGINIA GOV. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, are guilty of staggeringly bad judgment, ethical dim-wittedness and, in the governor’s case, ignoring Virginia’s financial disclosure laws. Whether the governor and his wife are to be charged with some other abuse of office is up to federal and state investigators.

That’s the clear conclusion from Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman’s recent reporting in The Post about the gifts lavished on Mr. McDonnell and his wife by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and others.

The discovery that Ms. McDonnell “ordered” a $6,500 Rolex from Mr. Williams to present to her husband is the most recent example of the first couple’s royal sense of entitlement. Mr. Williams procured the wristwatch — which Mr. McDonnell never reported in his disclosure forms, as state law requires — just two weeks after the first lady arranged a meeting for Mr. Williams with state health officials in 2011 and shortly before she hosted a luncheon for his company at the governor’s mansion in Richmond.

At the meeting with state officials, Mr. Williams sought an imprimatur for his company’s newest product, a dietary supplement of unproven efficacy, proposing that Virginia consider whether its use would reduce state medical costs.

Equally stupefying is Ms. McDonnell’s proposal that Mr. Williams take her shopping in 2011 at Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store in Manhattan. During that jaunt, according to The Post, the governor’s wife rang up $15,000 on Mr. Williams’s tab.

As with previous unreported “gifts,” such as the $15,000 in catering expenses picked up by Mr. Williams at the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter, this is not simply the appearance of impropriety. In fact the “gifts” put the governor in thrall to a businessman whose agenda clearly went beyond friendship (which dated only to Mr. McDonnell’s race for the governorship in 2009). If Mr. McDonnell extended official favors to Mr. Williams — which is probably what FBI and state investigators are looking into — criminal charges could be in order.

So far, the known quid pro quos include the luncheon at the governor’s mansion, hosted by Ms. McDonnell, to help launch the signature product of Mr. Williams’s struggling company, and a plug for the same product delivered by Ms. McDonnell at a conference in Florida. That doesn’t quite seem like money in Mr. Williams’s pocket; nonetheless, it must have helped establish credibility for his company and its nutritional supplement, Anatabloc.

As we’ve noted before, Mr. McDonnell has taken cover behind Virginia’s anemic disclosure requirements, which exempt gifts to family members, and has ignored calls to provide a comprehensive accounting of the gifts his family has received. He is now suffering the consequences: a slow drip of damaging revelations that threatens to destroy his political career and his otherwise admirable legacy as governor.