Senior Justice Department officials delayed federal prosecutors’ plan to charge Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife in connection with a gifts scandal, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told the McDonnells’ lawyers last week that he planned to have an indictment no later than this past Monday, according to the Post.
But before that could happen, lawyers for the McDonnells met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Dec. 12. A person familiar with the conversation told the Post the lawyers maintained that Virginia’s first couple had done nothing wrong, and questioned the credibility of a key witness in the case: Mary Shea Sutherland, the former chief of staff to Maureen McDonnell. They also argued that if charges do come, they should come after McDonnell leaves office on Jan. 11.
The day after the meeting, McDonnell’s lawyers were told the decision would be put on hold. A final decision is not expected before Jan. 2.
Prosecutors have for months been investigating the relationship between McDonnell and Jonnie Williams, the CEO of an embattled dietary supplements company called Star Scientific. Williams gave McDonnell and his family more than $150,000 in gifts and payments in recent years, during the same period that McDonnell and his wife took steps to support the company. The McDonnells repaid and returned Williams’ money after their ties to the businessman became public earlier this year.
According to the Post, the McDonnells lawyers have argued that they could convince a jury that Sutherland, the first lady’s former chief of staff, was trying to curry favor with Williams. Emails released earlier this year show Sutherland helped organize an event for Star Scientific at the Virginia governor’s mansion in August 2011. According to the Post, Sutherland and Williams were in talks in 2011 for Sutherland to leave her job and work for Williams, and Sutherland received a dress from Williams on the same trip to New York City during which the businessman spent thousands of dollars on the first lady.
The decision to hold off on charges marks at least the second time the federal probe has hit the brakes. Prosecutors reportedly had a window to press charges in August but ultimately did not do so, and then had to wait for Election Day to pass because prosecutors try to avoid the appearance that they are affecting elections.