By Peter Galuszka
GiftGate appears to approaching its dramatic conclusion with attorneys for Gov. and Mrs. Robert F. McDonnell scheduled to appear before federal prosecutors again before Sept. 15. A decision about whether to indict them is expected soon.
The plot, while delicious, is a bit hard to follow in what is the worst ethics breach in Virginia politics in years or perhaps in its history.
There are more characters involved than in a Tolstoy novel. So, to help Bacon’s Rebellion readers, I am offering this cast of characters:
Jonnie R. Williams, Sr. Super salesman and entrepreneur founded Star Scientific. Made big bucks developing eye care equipment and became fascinated with medicinal uses of tobacco. The Rasputin-like friend of the McDonnells showered them with gifts, such as money, trips, stock and loans. Now cooperating with federal prosecutors, he apparently has ended his friendship with Gov. Robert F. and Mrs. Maureen McDonnell.
Jerry Kilgore. Prominent Republican and lawyer at powerhouse law firm McGuire Woods was attorney general from 2002 to 2005. Lost governor’s race to Tim Kaine in 2005. Now represents his close friend Williams.
Richard Cullen. Another McGuire Woods heavy hitter and former federal prosecutor also represents Jonnie Williams. Cullens’ son, Richard Cullen Jr., heads communications for Atty. Gen. and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinell. Nephew Peter Farrell is a Republican delegate. He is also related by marriage to . . .
. . . Thomas Farrell, chief of Dominion Resources, the state’s largest utility and a huge political contributor to both parties. Farrell is Cullen’s brother-in-law and is a former McGuire Woods lawyer. Although not directly implicated in GiftGate, Farrell has given $301,947 since 2009 to candidates. Seventy-nine percent went to GOP candidates including more than $110,000 to McDonnell and his PAC.
Robert F. McDonnell. Outgoing Virginia Governor had been in the catbird seat as promising Republican star. A product of Notre Dame, Boston University and Pat Robertson’s Regent University, he oozed family wholesomeness and personal integrity. . .until he got involved with Jonnie Williams. Now under federal and state investigation. Got in deep trouble with real estate with bailout by Williams. Had to repay loans but only after they were disclosed.
Emmet T. Flood. Prominent Washington legal troubleshooter from white shoe Williams & Connolly law firm had been consigliere to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Had helped McDonnell who dumped him for telling him to keep stonewalling (although he keeps stonewalling).
John Brownlee. Former U.S. Attorney now represents McDonnell. Has been telling federal prosecutors that McDonnell did nothing to help Williams and did not know about many of the gifts because wife didn’t tell him everything.
Rich Galen. Top flight Republican communications expert and troubleshooter now helps McDonnell navigate the scandal. A former press secretary to Vice President Dan Quayle and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Galen is a conservative columnist and weighs in on many issues. Frequent interviewee on MSNBC, NBC, ABC and (of course) FOX.
Maureen McDonnell. Virginia’s First Lady is a former Redskins cheerleader who ran a small firm selling skin cream. She was a close friend of Jonnie Williams with whom she shares a fascination for Anatabloc, a tobacco-based dietary supplement made by Williams’ Star Scientific firm. She has a taste for the finer things and was treated to New York shopping sprees, private jet trips, thousands of dollars worth of Star stock among other things from Williams, for whom she arranged Executive Mansion luncheons to push influence. Didn’t tell husband Bob everything.
William Burck. Washington lawyer with Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan is an expert in regulatory and government corruption cases. He is representing Maureen McDonnell separately from her husband. Keeping distance is important in the “She Said, He Said” defense strategy to avoid indictments.
Kenneth Cuccinelli. Firebrand Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate is up to his neck in Giftgate and is trying to move away from it as fast as he can. Apparently sat on allegations from Executive Chef Todd Schneider of an unsavory relationship between Jonnie Williams and the McDonnells. Has had to recuse himself for several state cases involving Schneider and Williams’ firm Star Scientific. Tea Party favorite Cuccinelli is suffering somewhat in race due to GiftGate. Was cleared by local prosecutor of wrongdoing.
Todd Schneider. The man who started it all is a former Executive Chef for the McDonnells. Currently faces felony charges related to allegedly taking food and other items from Governor’s house. Told Cuccinelli that McDonnells were stripping kitchen of goodies and that they had a funny relationship with Williams and had not reported all of his gifts. Goes to trial in October, just in time for November elections.
Steven D. Benjamin. Crack Richmond criminal defense lawyer represents Todd Schneider. Now under judge’s gag order, he still has generated plenty of media interest with his filings claiming that the McDonnell family treated staff badly and plundered state digs.
Anthony F. Troy. Former Attorney General, Troy was appointed by Cuccinelli to represent McDonnell in legal matters involving the Schneider embezzlement case because of possible conflicts. Troy and others at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott have billed taxpayers $143,598 so far for their work.