I just got off a conference call with Senator Mark Herring, Democratic candidate for Attorney General of Virginia, in which he discussed the ongoing scandal involving Governor Bob McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Star Scientific. Also, check out Sen. Herring’s letter to Jack Smith (Chief, Public Integrity Section, United States Department of Justice), requesting that his office “conduct an investigation into the relationship between Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and the company Star Scientific and its Chief Executive Officer Jonnie R. Williams Sr.”
On the call, Sen. Herring further explained his reasoning behind his call for a “fair and independent” investigation of the Star Scientific matter. This whole situation, in Sen. Herring’s view, raises “very serious and troubling concerns” on this “clear and obvious conflict of interest.” Only when there was a great deal of media scrutiny did Cuccinelli belatedly recuse himself. Meanwhile, “additional revelations” and “serious allegations” have come out, raising more questions about “lavish gifts” to the governor and his family (also not reported), “conflicts of interest with the Attorney General, at a time when this company that they have these relationships and dealings with has important business before the state.”
More broadly, in Sen. Herring’s view, public officials shouldn’t be accepting gifts of this order and magnitude, especially when they come from a company with business in front of the state. That’s why, in Herring’s view, ethics rules need to be reformed and strengthened, including an outright prohibition on gifts of this sort. Also, this isn’t an isolated case: these types of ethical problems are happening more and more frequently in Virginia, underscoring the need for strengthening ethics laws.
Anyway, check out Sen. Herring’s letter to the US Department of Justice on the “flip.” Also, if you want to help elect Sen. Herring as Virginia’s next Attorney General, please click here to get involved. Thanks!
April 11, 2013
Chief, Public Integrity Section
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Mr. Smith,
In order to restore public trust and assure the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia that their best interests are being represented, I write to ask you and your office to conduct an investigation into the relationship between Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and the company Star Scientific and its Chief Executive Officer Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Serious questions have been raised by a sizeable payment, some $15,000, made by Mr. Williams to pay for the costs of catering at Governor McConnell’s daughter’s wedding, a “gift” which was not reported by the Governor, which could be a violation of Virginia law. Moreover, Governor McDonnell and his family have taken actions on behalf of Mr. Williams’s company, raising the question of a quid pro quo being involved. As more revelations of his direct involvement have become known, the Governor’s explanation of these events has changed. For instance, a Washington Post story from April 9, 2013 shows Governor McDonnell may have had prior knowledge and involvement in the transaction.
Furthermore, it has come to light that Mr. Cuccinelli failed to disclose that he owns stock in Star Scientific and has accepted gifts from Mr. Williams. Until recent press scrutiny, Mr. Cuccinelli had refused to recuse himself in a case involving the Commonwealth of Virginia against Star Scientific over a $700,000 tax assessment. Mr. Cuccinelli’s claims that he was unaware he held as much as $10,000 in shares in Star Scientific also raises questions.
Due to the high positions these individuals hold in Virginia State Government, I am asking for an outside and independent investigation so the public can be assured the investigation is free of political influence and focused on the sole purpose of determining whether any laws have been broken or if public policy has been unduly influenced as a result of the relationship between these public officials and this corporation.
I appreciate your timely response on this matter.