For a while there, it looked like Bob McDonnell’s misfortune might be relatively good news for the 2013 Republican nominee for to succeed him as governor of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli.
After all, Cooch was going into a very tough race in an uneasy relationship with McDonnell, having pushed aside the incumbent’s preferred successor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and then attacked McDonnell’s signature achievement, a new state transportation plan.
Having the incumbent lose influence via a “personal scandal” (the large amounts of money he and his family appear to have taken from a corporate titan with plenty of interests in state government) eroded McDonnell’s leadership position in the state GOP without getting Cooch’s petticoats dirty. Or so it seemed. While his own office was involved in investigating McDonnell’s ethics, it turns out the Attorney General himself had to be “walled off” from their efforts because of his relationship with the company at the very center of the scandal. And so, as Trip Gabriel of the New York Times explains, the anchor that’s taking McDonnell down has snagged Cooch as well:
Star Scientific and its chief executive have been at the center of an exploding political drama in Virginia as state and federal investigators look into lavish gifts that the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., gave Gov. Bob McDonnell.
And now, despite his efforts to distance himself, scrutiny is growing of Mr. Cuccinelli’s ties to the executive.
Aides to Mr. Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor this year, insisted he enjoyed nothing like the relationship to Mr. Williams that Mr. McDonnell had. Last week Mr. Cuccinelli indirectly condemned Mr. McDonnell, a fellow Republican, for the first time, lamenting, “What we’ve all been seeing is very painful for Virginia.”
The statement followed a report that Mr. Williams’s gifts to the governor and his family totaled $145,000, and included a Rolex watch, designer clothing and a $50,000 check to Mr. McDonnell’s wife. The gifts were first revealed in The Washington Post.
Mr. Williams, 57, also gave the attorney general $18,000 worth of gifts, including frequent stays at Mr. Williams’s homes outside Richmond and in the Blue Ridge Mountains, according to Mr. Cuccinelli’s financial disclosure statements. Mr. Cuccinelli at first failed to report some gifts, as well as his Star Scientific stock, as required by law, which he has said was an oversight.
The attorney general is not known to be a target of the investigations into Mr. McDonnell, including one by a federal grand jury. At no time, the attorney general said, did he receive stock tips from the executive. But Mr. Cuccinelli’s buying and selling of Star Scientific shares raises questions about whether he and Mr. Williams were as distant as campaign aides insist.
Star Scientific was Mr. Cuccinelli’s only stock holding worth more than $10,000 since he became attorney general, according to his disclosure forms. In at least two cases, his buying and selling was closely timed to vacations he and his family enjoyed as guests of Mr. Williams.
Maybe Cooch can contain the damage or at least contrast his involvement with Williams against McDonnell’s more pervasive entanglement. But it doesn’t exactly help his effort to go after Terry McAuliffe as a sleazy D.C. wheeler-dealer as opposed to the principled conservative crusader in Richmond.