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McDonnell won’t answer questions on Rolex

Va. health secretary confirms his office fielded a request to meet with Star CEO

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McDonnell's watch

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wears a Rolex watch during an interview in his office on Jan. 3, 2012. He said the watch was a gift from his wife, first lady Maureen McDonnell.

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Thursday refused to answer questions on whether he knew that an expensive Rolex watch he received from his wife was, in fact, a gift from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr.

Following a radio appearance in Richmond, McDonnell was asked whether he realized that the $6,500 timepiece was a gift from Williams — a McDonnell mega-donor and friend whose dietary supplement, Anatabloc, has been promoted by first lady Maureen McDonnell on at least two occasions.

“I’m not going to comment any further on that,” he responded.

Also on Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel Jr. confirmed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that his office received a request to meet with Williams at the Executive Mansion regarding his company’s products. He was not sure who made the request.

Hazel said neither he nor any of his deputies attended the meeting, but instead dispatched an aide. “There wasn’t anything the least bit unusual about it, and nothing came of it,” he said Thursday.

Speaking after his monthly appearance on WRVA in Richmond, McDonnell did not directly address whether he helped broker a meeting between state health officials and Williams.

The governor did say that his wife did not work for Star Scientific, even as sources said she has received a number of checks from Williams, in addition to numerous expensive gifts that include thousands in designer clothing purchased during a New York City shopping spree in the spring of 2011.

And McDonnell reiterated previous statements that neither Williams nor his company have received any benefits from the state during his term in office — while maintaining that some details of the reports on the Williams relationship and the first family’s use of mansion resources have been unfair and inaccurate.

The answers came during and after the governor’s appearance on WRVA. McDonnell, with barely six months left in office, finds himself entangled in three criminal investigations.

One probe involves felony embezzlement charges against the former mansion chef, Todd Schneider, who has claimed the first family misused mansion resources.

A second investigation, which Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli last November forwarded to Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring, is reviewing whether McDonnell properly completed his required economic disclosure forms. The forms mandate the reporting of all gifts to elected officials valued at more than $50, but exempt gifts to family and from personal friends.

Meanwhile, federal investigators have subpoenaed McDonnell associates to appear before a grand jury next month — part of a probe into the governor’s relationship with Williams and other donors — and whether they have benefited from their generosity to the first family.

Williams’ company is also the subject of a federal securities investigation.

On Thursday, questions centered on what McDonnell knew — and if he did know, when he knew it.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on any criminal case or any potential investigation that’s out there,” the governor said.

“It’s critically important for the people to know that neither Mr. Williams or Star Scientific has received any special benefit at all from the state — nor has any other company. Mr. Williams and Star Scientific have not received any board appointments, no economic development grants, no special monies in the budget or any benefit from the state during the time I’ve been governor.”

During a January 2012 interview with The Times-Dispatch, McDonnell was asked about the Rolex watch on his wrist. The governor responded that it was a Christmas gift from his wife.

But sources recently told The Times-Dispatch that Williams had purchased the men’s watch for Maureen McDonnell. According to The Washington Post, the first lady solicited the gift from Williams in August 2011 — shortly before she helped set up a meeting with Williams and a health department official to discuss Anatabloc and the same month that she held a luncheon at the Executive Mansion for the launch of the supplement.

On Wednesday, McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said that when the governor “learned of a gift he knew had to be reported, he reported it,” raising the issue as to whether McDonnell was aware that the expensive jewelry came from Williams. As a gift from Williams, the watch would have to be reported on the governor’s disclosure forms.

On Thursday, McDonnell said: “I think I’ve said all that I can say given the fact that there’s reviews being done of statement of economic interests at this time, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment at this time any further.”

During his radio show, however, McDonnell did say the state’s financial disclosure laws may need amending to clarify definitions of gifts that public officeholders must report.

He said it makes no sense to require the reporting of gifts to grown children, whose gifts the officeholders might not know about, but that the law could be changed to apply to dependent children in a household.

“Much is left to the officeholder to determine ... whether or not something should or should not be disclosed,” he said.

McDonnell said several times on the radio show that his statements of economic interests are being reviewed as part of a state investigation. “If there is a need for an amendment, it will be made public at that time,” he said.

The governor also did not directly answer whether he helped facilitate a meeting between administration officials and Williams to pitch Anatabloc for possible inclusion in the state employee health plan.

“There are no benefits in the state employee health plan that are going to Star Scientific,” the governor said. “You know people all the time come and make presentations to people in my office about things they’d like to have, either in the state employee health plan or things they’d like to have the state do business with.

“People make presentations all the time about things they’d like to have considered for state contracts, and state employees make the best decisions they can, based on the facts and based on the value that they hope they give to the taxpayers.”

The governor also did not directly address whether the first lady had a financial relationship with Williams or Star Scientific or had received payments from Williams, but he said she had not worked for Star Scientific.

“Absolutely not — no. ... No, she did not,” he said.

The first lady did travel to Florida with Williams and spoke about Anatabloc during a presentation to investors and researchers on June 1, 2011 — several days before the Executive Mansion wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin.

Williams provided a $15,000 check to cover the catering expenses at Cailin McDonnell’s wedding. The governor, who signed the catering contract, did not declare the money because he said it was a gift to his daughter and therefore did not have to be disclosed.

In addition to the mansion luncheon later that August, Maureen McDonnell was listed as a featured speaker at another Richmond event for the Star Scientific supplement, and she traveled to Flint, Mich., on the same day as a presentation on the supplement at a nearby country club.

Investigators are reviewing meetings the McDonnells may have attended or set up on behalf of Williams and Star Scientific, as well as records of checks Williams gave to Maureen McDonnell on top of the gifts already declared by the governor, which include more than $100,000 in campaign donations and a stay at Williams’ vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake.

“My wife has done literally hundreds of events — to support veterans, to support wine, film and tourism,” the governor said. “To support women in business, to support people in health care. She’s literally traveled the state and traveled the country to do things. … She loves doing this public service, and I think she’s come under some unfair criticism.”

McDonnell vowed to not allow his final six months in office to be undermined by news reports that he called misleading, inaccurate and in some cases “flat wrong” about gifts and the use of mansion resources.

“I’ve got a lot I want to do,” McDonnell said. “I’m not going to be distracted by anonymous sources and naysayers.”

But he acknowledged that the news reports had taken a personal toll on him and his family.

McDonnell’s five children are all adults. The governor’s eldest daughter, Jeanine, 32, wed last month in Virginia Beach.

“This has been a difficult time,” he told radio listeners. “It does get upsetting when people are going after my family.”

“This has been a tough few months for me,” he said after the show. “I have been in office now, in some form for 37 years … and at no time in office has anyone ever raised any issue with regard to my ethics or my conduct while in office. …

“There’s more I’d like to say, but listen, I’ve got six months left as governor. And there’s a lot of important things I need to do.”

jnolan@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

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