Gov. McDonnell Turns On Old Pal Jonnie Williams

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell answers reporters questions in Richmond, Va. on June 24, 2013.
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Looks like Jonnie Williams won’t be getting a Christmas card from the McDonnells this year.

After the Virginia dietary supplements maker Star Scientific announced on Friday that it did not expect to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, a spokesperson for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) went public with criticism of both the company and its CEO, Jonnie Williams. Williams’ relationship with McDonnell is the subject of both state and federal investigations, and the governor and his family have recently returned over $150,000 in gifts and loans given to them by him in recent years.

“Apparently, the U.S. government has given Star Scientific a free pass for unspecified misdeeds in return for the testimony of Jonnie Williams,” Rich Galen, McDonnell’s recently-hired private spokesperson, wrote in a statement to The Virginian-Pilot on Saturday. “Governor Bob McDonnell has had an 37-year unblemished record of military and civilian government service. Jonnie Williams has been in trouble with government entities since the earliest days of his business career.”

As TPM has previously reported, Williams was involved for decades with troubled companies — companies which have had their share of run-ins with authorities. Earlier this year, Star Scientific disclosed to investors that it had received subpoenas as part of a federal probe of its securities transactions. On Friday, however, the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it does not believe it will be prosecuted for “any of the matters” that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that both Williams and Star Scientific had been cooperating for months with federal prosecutors.

McDonnell has in recent days taken to speaking of his friendship with Williams in the past tense, but Galen’s statement this weekend marks the first time the governor or his team have explicitly attacked the businessman. Last month, McDonnell repaid $124,115.17 in loans Williams provided to him and his family, and announced that he intended to return additional gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Star Scientific, which spent years producing tobacco it claimed had lower levels of carcinogens, currently produces dietary supplements and cosmetic products that include a compound, anatabine, found in tobacco and other plants. Last month, an attorney appointed to represent McDonnell in the Williams matter released a letter stating that key state agencies did not give any public funds, grants, or contracts to Star Scientific.

Spokespersons for Star Scientific and Williams did not immediately respond to requests for comment from TPM.

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