MILWAUKEE -- Republican Governors Association Chairman Bobby Jindal defended embattled Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) Sunday, saying McDonnell did the right thing by apologizing to the people of Virginia for a gifts scandal that has seized his final months in office.
But Jindal declined to say whether Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican nominee for governor, should return gifts from the same donor who has come under scrutiny in the McDonnell scandal. Instead, Jindal attacked Cuccinelli's opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, whose former company has also come under investigation over a separate matter.
"I have talked to Bob. I think he's done a great job as governor of Virginia," Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, told reporters here. "I think he did the right thing by returning those gifts and by apologizing to the people of Virginia."
McDonnell has come under scrutiny from federal and state authorities over his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a major donor who has provided gifts for and made loans to McDonnell and his family. The Washington Post first reported in March that Williams paid for catering at the 2011 wedding of McDonnell's daughter Caitlin. McDonnell apologized for his behavior last month and said he repaid the loans to Williams.
Jindal was asked Sunday whether he believed McDonnell should step down or serve out the remainder of his term, but declined to say. Virginia governors are limited to a single term in office, and McDonnell has only months left in his tenure before he is set to step down in early 2014.
Cuccinelli has received about $18,000 worth of gifts from Williams, which he has disclosed and so far declined to return. Jindal was pressed Sunday about whether Cuccinelli should return the gifts. He declined to take a position, as he sought to draw attention to McAuliffe.
"I know the McAuliffe campaign wants to make this about everything but the real issues," said Jindal. "The reality is that Ken's been cleared by the attorney general down in Richmond. There is only one candidate here that's under SEC investigation."
Jindal was referring to a Washington Post report revealing that a car company McAuliffe co-founded is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its efforts to solicit foreign investors. McAuliffe said Saturday he first learned about the probe when reading about it.
Jindal excoriated McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, suggesting that Democratic officials should find a replacement candidate for him. He also unveiled a new RGA ad that slams McAuliffe.
The television commercial says McAuliffe is "falsely attacking" Cuccinelli on energy and references the SEC investigation, among other things. "Terry McAuliffe, just can't trust him," concludes the narrator.
"It's not often that I thank my Democratic counterparts, but I do want to thank them for nominating Terry," Jindal quipped, before launching into an attack on McAuliffe's record.
Democratic Governors Association spokesman Danny Kanner responded that Jindal did Cuccinelli more harm than good with his remarks.
"Bobby Jindal hurt Ken Cuccinelli more than he helped today by highlighting the absurdity of Cuccinelli's refusal to pay back the $18,000 in gifts he took from Jonnie Williams while Bob McDonnell returns his," said Kanner. "Jindal's right -- McDonnell did the 'right thing' by returning his gifts, and he should obviously call on Cuccinelli to do the same."
Jindal addressed reporters after a morning RGA meeting here. More than two dozen governors gathered here this weekend for a National Governors Association meeting that wraps up Sunday afternoon.
The RGA must defend 24 seats held by Republican governors this year and next, compared to just 14 for Democrats. Jindal sounded an optimistic note, singling out Illinois and Arkansas as potential GOP pickup opportunities.
"I think the Republican governors have a great set of accomplishments they can present to voters," Jindal said.