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McDonnell, subject of gifts probe, announces plans to recommend ethics reforms

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recites his name and address for the poll worker ad he and his wife Maureen arrive to vote at the main library in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5. (Steve Helber/AP)

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Thursday that he will recommend reforms to the state’s ethics and gift laws in the coming weeks.

McDonnell (R) has said before that he has ideas on how to change Virginia law in response to his family’s entanglements with a wealthy political benefactor, but his comments Thursday, in a major national television interview, returned the topic to the spotlight in the waning weeks of his term.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he called Virginia’s laws — which allow politicians to accept gifts of any size provided they annually disclose those worth $50 or more — “some of the more lax” in the nation.

Still, he insisted he has followed those laws in his dealings with dietary supplement company chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who provided McDonnell’s family with more than $160,000 in gifts and loans. State and federal authorities are investigating the relationship.

“I followed the law,” he said. “I did accept the gifts. A lot of other governors have done the same thing. But in retrospect, I understand it undermined the trust of the people in me, and that’s why I made the changes that I did and why I apologized and why we’ll recommend some ethics changes in the law.”

McDonnell was greeted warmly on the program by hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, as well as by fellow guest Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

Stressing Virginia’s low unemployment rate and McDonnell’s relatively healthy approval ratings, Scarborough told McDonnell he considers him a “role model” for how conservatives can work with Democrats without losing support from their own party.

“Politics is the art of the possible. Fight hard for your principles. I’m a fiscal and social conservative. But, one, you’ve got to have the right tone,” McDonnell said to explain his approach. “I smile a lot, which people like. Optimism. . . . Look, the kitchen table issues are what people want to know about.”

Federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring charges against McDonnell, accusing him of improperly assisting Williams. McDonnell said he would “do things a little bit differently now, having the benefit of hindsight.”

But asked whether he agreed that it looked as if he had abused his position in his dealings with Williams, he said, “Absolutely not.” Some of the coverage of the issue, he said, has been “inaccurate, unfair or one-sided.”

Asked in an interview on WJLA (Channel 7) last week whether he expected to faces charges, McDonnell said, “Those things are completely out of my hands.”

He added: “I welcome people reviewing the facts here: I have never done anything to ever abuse my office with anybody, whether they’ve been a donor or they were not a donor.”

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



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