Robert F. McDonnell expressed concern to a top government lawyer in early 2012, when the governor was preparing to file a disclosure form for gifts given to him the previous year.
It was not the wedding catering, $3,000 in golf outings and loans that had the governor worried, since McDonnell did not list them on the form. McDonnell merely wondered how the presents he did disclose would stack up to those his predecessors received when they were in the governor’s mansion.
“How do these gifts compare with Warner/Kaine?” McDonnell asked his counsel, Jasen Eige, in a hand-written note on a draft disclosure form.
Eige testified Tuesday about helping McDonnell prepare his disclosure forms. He said he urged Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff early in the administration to keep track of any gifts given to the first lady that were really presents to the governor himself, according to court testimony Tuesday.
Eige, then-counsel to the governor, said he looked into whether the first lady needed to file the same financial disclosure form elected and senior government officials must turn in annually. He concluded that she did not. But he instructed the first lady’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, to “keep track of gifts that were really gifts to the governor.”
Eige also described Robert F. McDonnell as deeply involved in the preparation of his own financial disclosure form, which would be the subject of several meetings and go through various drafts and redrafts before it was finally submitted in January of each year to cover the previous year’s activity.
“He made extensive edits,” Eige said. “He’s meticulous.”
Although McDonnell worked with Eige and others on the preparation of the form, Eige said the governor had the last word on what was submitted.
Eige described researching the definition of “personal friend” in connection the Statement of Economic Interests form that the governor was preparing in early 2012, to cover 2011.
At the time, Virginia law allowed elected officials to accept gifts of any size so long as they disclosed those worth more than $50. The law did not require officials to list gifts to immediate family members. And the disclosure form instructs officials not to list gifts given by “relatives or personal friends for reasons clearly unrelated to your public position.”
When the gifts scandal first broke, McDonnell asserted that some of the gifts from Williams, such as $15,000 in wedding catering for his daughter, did not have to be disclosed because they were given to his relatives, not to him. The governor also asserted that Williams, whom he met shortly after winning the governor’s race in 2009, was a personal friend.
On the stand, Eige said he discussed the definition of “personal friend” came up with the governor whenever they prepared his disclosure form. Eige said the definition is not entirely clear.
“There’s not a lot of guidance on it,” he said. “There’s no bright-line determination.”
But Eige said generally, he would ask the governor to consider the context in which the gift was given and whether he knew the gift-giver before taking office.