The Washington Post

McDonnell says he and his family have returned all ‘tangible’ gifts from donor

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell visits Danville Community College on Monday in Danville, Va. McDonnell says he has returned gifts from a wealthy political supporter. (Norm Shafer/For The Washington Post)

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said he has returned all “tangible” gifts that were given to him and his family members by a wealthy political supporter but declined to detail a list of those items.

Rich Galen, a spokesman for McDonnell’s legal team, said Tuesday that McDonnell did not intend to release an itemized accounting of the items returned to Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of a dietary supplement company whose relationship with McDonnell is the subject of state and federal investigations.

McDonnell (R) first told the Associated Press on Monday that the gifts had been returned by his attorneys to Williams.

People familiar with the situation have said Williams’s gifts to the governor’s family included $15,000 worth of high-end clothing purchased for McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and a $6,500 Rolex watch, engraved with the words “71st Governor of Virginia,” that Williams bought for the governor at Maureen McDonnell’s urging. Galen said Tuesday that the Rolex watch, as a tangible gift, was one of the items the governor returned.

Jerry Kilgore, an attorney for Williams, declined to comment.

Timeline: Star Scientific and Gov. McDonnell

The return of the gifts was part of a dramatic shift in the governor’s public strategy in dealing with the Williams issue since The Washington Post first reported in March that the executive had paid $15,000 for the catering at the 2011 wedding of one of McDonnell’s daughters.

The wedding gift came even as the McDonnells were taking steps that were helpful to Williams’s company, Star Scientific.

For months, McDonnell called Williams a family friend and said that as governor he had followed Virginia’s gift disclosure laws, which do not require gifts to spouses or children to be disclosed. McDonnell said he gave no special treatment to Williams or the company.

But on Friday, Galen signaled a change in tactics, turning on Williams in a statement that indicated that while McDonnell has had a 37-year unblemished record of public service, Williams, 58, “has been in trouble with government entities since the earliest days of his business career.”

Galen accused prosecutors of engaging in a “quid pro quo” with the businessman, suggesting that they were trading lenient treatment for Williams and his company in exchange for testimony against the governor.

The new tack came after people familiar with the investigation revealed that Williams was cooperating with prosecutors exploring whether McDonnell traded influence for gifts and money, and after Star Scientific formally told investors that it expected to face no charges, including any resulting from a securities investigation it had revealed in March.

McDonnell apologized July 23 for breaching Virginians’ trust in his dealings with Williams but maintained that he had broken no laws.

He announced that he had repaid more than $120,000 to Williams, money the executive had provided to Maureen McDonnell and a small corporation the governor owns with his sister in 2011 and 2012.

Then he said he was working to return other items provided by Williams. His daughter repaid the $15,000 catering gift; another daughter gave back $10,000 Williams had given her as an engagement gift.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.



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