The “GiftGate” Cast of Characters

 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 WilliamsJonnie 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.

Kilgore_Jerry.ashxJerry 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.

Cullen_Richard.ashxRichard 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_dominion. . . 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.

mcdonnell-1Robert 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 floodEmmet 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 brownleeJohn 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 galenRich 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.

Military Moms From  Ft. Belvoir Attend Group Baby ShowerMaureen 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-burckWilliam 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.

cooch.pixKenneth 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.

bio_chef_schneider_todd640Todd 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.

benjamin, stevenSteven 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 Troy,-TonySchneider embezzlement case because of possible conflicts. Troy and others at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott have billed taxpayers $143,598 so far for their work.

Stay tuned.

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25 responses to “The “GiftGate” Cast of Characters”

  1. Good Job Peter! and if you want to connect more dots…PLEASE DO and THANKYOU!

    Sounds like more stuff is likely to come out given the adversarial relationships.

    Looks like Maureen had her own ideas of how things should work. If she really was that far off the farm.. I cannot imagine hubby feeling good thoughts right now. Unless of course, she was his personal stalking horse…..
    I wonder what the inside scoop says…

  2. Peter, I don’t have a problem with the content, but I’m curious:

    Why did you use that picture of the First Lady? All of the men get decent photos, but she gets an extreme close-up? I’m not claiming sexism at all, but I’m surprised you couldn’t find a more suitable photo (see here or here).

    I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up or identify her on the street if I relied on your current photo. Seems like an odd choice.

  3. Very entertaining, and even informative, Peter. Thanks for posting.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The maureen picture is what i happened to have in the file. The intent is not sexism and I don’t really see much difference between this and the photos you suggest. No changes coming on my part.

  5. Breckinridge Avatar

    “Worst ethics breach in Virginia history?” Not even close. Of course the good ones never make the papers.

    And why pray tell did you add Tom Farrell to the list? Seriously. Show cause that is not a cheap shot (and one that might earn Bacon a libel suit on your behalf, as I’m totally unaware of any connection.) Answer very carefully. Sullivan will not apply.

    You always go too far, Peter, you always do.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Libel? As a long-time journalist I was always told that “truth is the best defense against libel.” So, if Farrell were to sue me, he would have to (1) claim he is not Cullen’s brother-in-law and (2) if he is, being so somehow defames him, diminishes him and costs him and income.

    Gee, Tough case.

    1. Peter, you are technically correct, so Farrell does not have a libel case against you. But Breckenridge also makes a valid point that Farrell has absolutely nothing to do with GiftGate, so why did you include him?

      I will admit that the Cullen-Farrell-McGuire Woods-McDonnell connections are interesting from the perspective of understanding the inner workings of the highest echelons of Republican Party power in Virginia. Still, there is no evidence to connect Farrell to GiftGate. You were going for cheap thrills with that one.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Excuse me, but your comment is a bit much. Farrell and Dominion are major political players (HUGE donors) and NOT to note their role and their personal relationships would be self-censorship. I never said they were involved with GiftGate. But damn, they gave money to a lot of these people and have ties with major players. If you were a political scientist or an historian analyzing a foreign country, would you NOT make note of some of the relationships? Shame on you, my friend. Get real!

    1. Let’s see, the headline of your story reads, “The ‘Giftgate’ Cast of Characters.” How on *earth* could I have gotten the idea that you were associating Farrell with Giftgate?

      1. It’s close to the line, I agree and maybe take it down a notch on the headline.

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Jim, to not mention farrell and dominion in this tale becsuse of their enormous political and financial clout would be absolutely ridiculous. They may not have had a direct role in giftgate (my guess) but they are very much of the power elite involved with all of this. If you don’t understand

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      As the only independent on BaconsRebellion and as the self-proclaimed judge of all content …

      I’ll allow Peter’s inclusion of Farrell.

      GiftGate, like WaterGate, has its own gravity. It pulls people into it. As the largest corporate contributor to Virginia politicians Dominion has earned its seat at the table. The key fact is that Dominion is a regulated monopoly which draws it monopoly powers through the consent of the General Assembly. It is also a huge campaign contributor and gift giver to the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

      Anywhere but Virginia the conflict of interest would be obvious.

      I also believe Farrell went to high school with Bob McDonnell. If my recollection proves correct it proves that even good people raised in righteous surroundings can become immersed in the buffoorery of Richmond.

      1. If the story was showing, say, the incestuous, inbred world of the Virginia Republican leadership, you could make a case for including Farrell. I think that’s a perfectly worth topic — just as it would be a worthy topic to talk about the incestuous, inbred world of the Virginia Democratic leadership. But that’s not how Peter billed the story.

        I note that Peter has added Tony Troy to the list of characters since the original post. That was entirely appropriate. Troy *is* a player in the ongoing saga.

  9. I’m going to defend Peter even though I do think he is close to the line.

    it’s useful to know who the various players are and their connections to each other…. and I don’t think it is libel to identify them as long as they are not accused of being involved in wrong-doing.

    I certainly do think it’s relevant that major political donors are also related to the legal firms representing the accused.

    I actually think that it’s this kind of information that the average Virginian does not have in hand… it does not indicate guilt – but it does provide a perspective of the players in Va governance and related affairs.

    I don’t think this is any different than looking at a list of VPAP donors and realizing that you recognize some of the folks who are donating money – and end up wondering what the connection is to the folks you don’t recognize.

    In that regard – I see no problem at all with a short bio of the larger money donors in VPAP.. I think it could be useful info to citizens.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Let’s review VPAP from 2009.

    Farrell gave:
    $60K plus to McDonnell; $50K plus to McD’s PAC; $30 to Peter Farrell’s Campaign; and $31K to Bolling. Cooch got somewhat less.

    By your standards, he’s NOT a factor. Just biz as usual, huh Jimbo?

    You just love to protect the rich and powerful, don’t you?

    1. I’ll replicate my response to Don above.

      “If the story was showing, say, the incestuous, inbred world of the Virginia Republican leadership, you could make a case for including Farrell. I think that’s a perfectly worth topic — just as it would be a worthy topic to talk about the incestuous, inbred world of the Virginia Democratic leadership. But that’s not how Peter billed the story.

      “I note that Peter has added Tony Troy to the list of characters since the original post. That was entirely appropriate. Troy *is* a player in the ongoing saga.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Gosh, I wonder why every Attorney General for the past 30 years has resigned in order to run for governor?

      Cuccinelli is a plague. He is a virus. He is evil incarnate. Every red cent that the Commonwealth of Virginia spends on this is because of Cuccinelli’s boundless ego and hubris.

  11. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I find this entire conversation remarkable.

  12. Breckinridge Avatar

    Oh, it was libel. Guilt by association. And based on the string of comments above, it was conscious, pre-meditated and done with actual malice. That said, you might get away with it and for Jim’s sake I hope you do. I agree Dominion’s roll in Virginia politics (I could say dominating Virginia politics) is a valid topic but there is no indication Mr. Farrell has any association with this situation or has lavished gifts on the Governor and his family in the same manner as Star Scientific. But you put him on a list as a player in this drama and your purpose was guilt by association.

  13. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I never said that Farrell was directly involved and have updated the post to make that clear. He’s no more guilty of GiftGate than the platoons of lawyers and spin doctors helping out and making money. You really should read what I wrote. Farrell, however, is one of the most prominent political campaign donors around. That’s fair game.

    Are you a lawyer, by the way? I’ve been a journalist for nearly 40 years and have had to deal with lots of libel issues. Everything I wrote about Farrell is true. I really don’t get your argument — we’re not supposed to bring up the politician contributions by one of the most powerful men in the state who leads the most powerful utility in the state. Where are we anyway? Indonesia?

    As for Jim Bacon’s points about digging up incestuousness in the Democratic Party, well, I haven’t seen too many Dems around in GiftGate. Do you? Am I missing some? I really don’t see the point of going on with some phony comparison for “fairness” when we’re talking about a particular scandal. You sure didn’t pull any punches when it comes to the MWAA. Did you ever feel compelled to come up with a mirror image for the sake of “balance.”

    It is amazing how some of the responders say “Great story” and then it’s not a great story. They say that McDonnell is a huge disappointment and then defend the system that helped this mess along.

    Don the Ripper is right about one thing — there most likely be no real concerted ethics reform effort. Everyone is likely involved and we all want to believe the Magnolia and Moonshine nonsense that Virginian politicians are too “gentlemanly” to be venal.

    1. Breckinridge Avatar

      You said that Tom Farrell was among the “cast of characters” of Gift-Gate. That is not true. So we have the first element of libel – a false statement. That statement was published and then re-published on Blue Virginia. There is the second element – it was published. Was it defamatory to affiliate someone with the situation who was not affiliated in reality — that is the third element and I would submit that some who read it came away with a negative impression. Clearly this is not a “cast of characters” anybody wants to be part of, except of course for the lawyers who are paid to represent their clients.

      I won’t opine on whether a court would find against you. Clearly a suit would not be frivolous and it would cost you dearly to defend yourself. But the bottom line, legality aside, it was a dirty low down cheap shot and no one who claims the title journalist should have been within a mile of it. You are a propagandist, a polemicist, but not a journalist.

  14. kaylamorris Avatar

    great post!

    Mr. James doesn’t this look like great start to the “Virginia Power Elite” wiki you were talking about?

    The problem with Cullen Senior is that he workd for Cuccinelli (as transition co-chair), his son works for Cuccinelli, his brother was McDonnell’s transition co-chair and his higher education leader, his nephew is a Delegate and they all give each other a lot of money (legally). There just seems to be a MAJOR conflict of interest in Cullen representing Williams when his entire family relies on Williams’ opponents getting elected! (I’m and independent by the way and not voting in this election)! (Mr Tom is only “invovled” at the conflict of interest level (though it would amazing if some body found the records for Dominion’s private jet or jets). This all STINKS! THanks to Bacon’s Rebellion and the Washington Post for great reporting on this! – Kay

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      This is the result.

  15. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Gee, thanks for the libel lesson. I am sure you know what you are talking about.

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