Virginia’s Election Day Sets Clock Ticking In Bob McDonnell Case

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It’s a big week for Virginia politics. On Tuesday, voters were deciding who they want to be the state’s next governor. Then, starting Wednesday, federal prosecutors could decide what to do with the current one.

Prosecutors in the long-running probe of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his family’s relationship with a wealthy Virginia businessman and political donor have reportedly been waiting for Election Day to pass before deciding whether to bring charges in the case.

The donor, Jonnie Williams, runs an embattled dietary supplements company called Star Scientific, and gave McDonnell and his family more than $150,000 in gifts and payments in recent years. That was during the same time that McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, took steps to support the company. The McDonnells repaid and returned Williams’ money after their ties to the businessman became a scandal earlier this year.

The Washington Post reported in late September that prosecutors had a window to potentially bring charges in the case in August, but lawyers for McDonnell communicated little interest in plea deal negotiations, and made arguments that prompted the government to take a step back, re-review the evidence, a do some more digging.

The delay brought the case up against Tuesday’s election and, while there’s no Justice Department rule against bringing charges during an election season, prosecutors try to avoid the appearance that they are affecting elections. According to the Post, they have moved particularly carefully in the McDonnell case because of its connection to Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli bought stock in Williams’ company, Star Scientific, while serving as attorney general, and accepted plane trips and vacations paid for by Williams. Earlier this year, Cuccinelli announced he would donate the value of the personal gifts — $18,000 — to charity.

While the case may have slowed down, there have been some signs of life. In October, a federal appeals court rejected a request from McDonnell’s lawyers to shield emails to an advisor from a grand jury subpoena. While the ruling did not name McDonnell — the investigation has not officially been made public — sources told the Post that the opinion was tied to the McDonnell-Williams case. We may know more soon enough. Or not.

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