GOOD NEWS in Virginia! Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) recently saw fit to publicly salute the Virginia Chutney Co., whose spicy plum chutney was an award winner in the condiment category at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Also this month, Mr. McDonnell hailed 27 new biotech jobs in Pittsylvania County, highlighted a corporate grant to promote Richmond as a mecca for mountain bikers and celebrated the opening of the commonwealth’s 36th state park.
Alas, in more than 30 press releases issued by his office this month, the governor has had nothing to say about the scandal that is devouring his administration — until Thursday, when his office trumpeted a new audit that found no evidence that Mr. McDonnell had bestowed favors on Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a businessman who plied him and his family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts, loans and cash.
The audit, conducted by former attorney general Anthony F. Troy, is not necessarily the last word. Mr. Troy, a special counsel named to look into the affair by the current attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli (R), found no quid pro quo between the governor and Mr. Williams. But state and federal investigators have yet to weigh in; they’re likely to have the last word.
Still, the audit’s findings renew the question that Mr. McDonnell has faced for months: Why not come clean about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and baubles that he and his family accepted from Mr. Williams? Rather, Mr. McDonnell has done what politicians do when they get into trouble: hire a veteran Washington publicist.
For months, Mr. McDonnell has been advised to stop the corrosive drip of piecemeal disclosures by providing a full accounting of what he and his family have accepted and why. Instead, he has taken refuge behind Virginia’s flimsy disclosure law, arguing that he did nothing wrong since he was not required to divulge gifts given to his immediate family.
In fact, some of those gifts were pass-throughs to the governor, including the $6,500 Rolex that his wife requested as a “gift” from Mr. Williams, and the $15,000 that Mr. Williams paid for a catering bill — for which Mr. McDonnell signed the contract — at the wedding of the governor’s daughter. In other cases, Mr. McDonnell has obscured Mr. Williams’s beneficence, such as by disclosing that a member of his immediate family owed $70,000 to a creditor variously described as being in “medical services” and “health care.” Mr. Williams’s company, Star Scientific, makes nutritional products whose efficacy may be greater than that of spicy plum chutney, though we can’t say for certain.
Happy press releases and seasoned publicists will not put Mr. McDonnell on a smooth path through the end of 2013, when his term expires. At this point, perhaps nothing will. But he still can choose whether to stonewall Richmond’s most toxic scandal in years or to come clean.