RICHMOND — Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said the federal government’s shutdown and a fundraising deficit hurt Ken Cuccinelli II’s bid to succeed him more than other factors, including the gifts scandal that has consumed the governor’s last year in office and that sidelined him during the race.
McDonnell (R) was asked in an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” whether he agreed with Cuccinelli’s assessment that his campaign had been damaged by McDonnell’s ethics problems. Cuccinelli, the Republican state attorney general, made the comment to The Washington Post on Monday in his first interview since losing to Democrat Terry McAuliffe two weeks earlier.
“I think what we saw was the government shutdown, which I strongly opposed, about five weeks out caused a really significant shift in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, where we’ve got a lot of federal workers,” McDonnell said. “I think that was probably the biggest factor along with a great money deficit as well.”
Federal and state authorities are investigating McDonnell’s relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a Virginia businessman who provided the governor and his family with more than $160,000 in luxury gifts and in money that McDonnell has characterized as loans. McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell were promoting a nutritional supplement made by Williams’s company, Star Scientific, while receiving Williams’s largess.
The governor has apologized for embarrassing the commonwealth, and he returned the money and gifts. But he has said he provided no state favors to Williams or Star.
The scandal touched Cuccinelli, who received $18,000 in gifts from Williams and held substantial stock in Star. It also sidelined McDonnell from the fundraising and campaign appearances that an outgoing governor typically does for his party’s nominee.
McDonnell, who sat for the interview in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was attending a Republican Governors Association meeting, noted that Republicans maintained their 67-seat majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates in this month’s elections.
In the course of the sevenminute exchange, McDonnell declined to say why he thought Williams showered his family with gifts.
He also said some reports about the scandal have been inaccurate, though he declined to say how.
After McDonnell said the shutdown — for which the GOP received most of the public blame — and McAuliffe’s superior fundraising had hurt Cuccinelli most, Chuck Todd, the show’s host, said, “You don’t take any responsibility?”
McDonnell responded: “Listen, I’ve taken responsibility for things that I would have done differently. You know, I’ve repaid loans. I’ve given back gifts. Everything I think we did was compliant with the law, Chuck. But I’m a governor. I don’t want to play pundit about what happened. There are a lot of things when you lose you can look to say that should have been done differently. But to the degree that I have undermined trust in people, I have apologized. I think I certainly would do some things differently, and I think we need to change some of the ethics rules in Virginia to provide more clarity and certainly for both donors and officeholders alike.”
Todd pressed McDonnell on the issue, saying, “I’ve got to ask you, though: What did you think Jonnie Williams — why did you think he was giving you all these gifts and giving your wife all these gifts?”
McDonnell said: “Well, Chuck, I don’t think it’s necessary at this point to get into the facts. It’s been largely outlined, although much of the reporting has not been accurate. Virginia officials . . .”
“Well, we have some time to correct it,” Todd interjected. “What’s not been accurate?”
McDonnell declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigations.
“There have been multiple things, Chuck, that have not been accurate,” McDonnell said. “But as long as there are other reviews going on, I don’t think it would be appropriate to talk about it. What I have said is that . . . I have never done anything in my 22 years in office to abuse my office. I’ve made the right decision for people whether they’ve been donors or not donors. And there’s been nothing incorrect that we’ve done for Mr. Williams or anyone else.”