GOV. ROBERT F. McDonnell (R), elusive as a matador, has now taken refuge behind the passive formulation favored by politicians who have messed up. “I understand that some choices that have been made have undermined my trust with the citizens,” the governor said Tuesday, failing to specify that those choices were made by him and his wife, Maureen.
Mr. McDonnell can dodge accountability, but his damage-control campaign speaks louder than his words. On Tuesday he announced that he would return a number of gifts which, though he failed to specify them, presumably will cover goodies that he and his wife received from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Those include a $6,500 Rolex; $15,000 to cover part of a catering bill for the wedding of his daughter; and another $15,000 run up by Mrs. McDonnell, on Mr Williams’s tab, at Bergdorf Goodman, the New York luxury department store.
Just a week ago, Mr. McDonnell repaid Mr. Williams more than $124,000 in loans and interest. His actions are a step in the right direction. But words also matter, and in this regard the governor is failing. A week ago he acknowledged having embarrassed Virginians. In his monthly call-in show Tuesday on WTOP radio, he resumed the ducking-and-dodging that has compounded his problems for months.
The governor said he did not know about “some of the gifts” at the time they were given. (Not, presumably, the Rolex on his wrist.) He said he would return whatever “I have received.” Does that mean he will see to it that his wife also returns the $15,000 in merchandise from Bergdorf?
Worse, Mr. McDonnell attempted to evade responsibility both by suggesting that “some people” have deemed inaccurate reports of his freebie-fest (what people? which reports?) and by declaring that the gifts from Mr. Williams “came to me. I didn’t ask for them.” Please. Perhaps the governor should reacquaint himself with the phrase, “No, thank you.”
At the heart of Mr. McDonnell’s defense is his contention that he did no special favors for Mr. Williams and his company, Star Scientific, in return for the gifts, loans and cash that he received. In fact, Mr. McDonnell’s wife flew to Florida to plug Mr. Williams and company. And the couple hosted a luncheon two years ago at the executive mansion in Richmond when Star Scientific unveiled its key product, an unproven nutritional supplement called Anatabloc.
Mr. McDonnell says such favors were not out of the ordinary. But the executive mansion’s records make almost no explicit references to other luncheons held on behalf of individual Virginia companies. On the other hand, the luncheon for Mr. Williams is listed so obliquely — “VA researchers lunch” — that even officials in Mr. McDonnell’s entourage were baffled by it.
This reflects the governor’s strategy in this affair — to obfuscate and split legal hairs while dodging responsibility for his role, and that of his wife, in what has become his administration’s disgrace. Until he levels with Virginians about his actions and motives, the scandal will not go away.