RICHMOND (WWBT)- In an about face- Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) made a big move Wednesday. After weeks of turning back calls to do so, he decided to donate the value of gifts given to him by Jonnie Williams the CEO of Star Scientific to charity.
Cuccinelli said it is the "right thing to do" even though he believes initially receiving the gifts was not unethical. Democrats call the move purely political.
The issue is hanging over his campaign for Governor and Cuccinelli knows it.
"I'm trying to wipe the slate clean here," he said in a one on one television interview granted only to NBC12.
After months of criticism from democrats- even a billboard
over I-95, Cuccinelli will now donate the value of gifts, $18 thousand dollars,
to the Crossover Healthcare Ministries in Richmond. *UPDATE- Cuccinelli's campaign said Wednesday that the Attorney General would not persue a personal tax deduction for the donation.
He came to the decision- after talking to both supporters and opponents, but it still took some.
"I don't think too many people in Virginia that can just write an $18,000 check and I am with them," Cuccinelli said.
He said the funds came from a mix of his own personal assets and help from family members.
Democrats argue it is less complicated than that. They point to Cuccinelli's past where he took some time to donate $50 thousand in campaign contributions from a Bobby Thompson, a man later accused of running a fake charity for Navy Veterans.
"He waits until he is getting pressure from all sides and then he finally does the right thing," said Del. Jennifer McClellan (D- Richmond)
McClellan contends that this is not enough. She believes he also needs to step down from the Office of Attorney General.
"I think there is more that he can do to completely put to rest all of the conflicts,” she said. “Until he does that I don't think it is going to go away."
Cuccinelli admits the perception is not good, but claims he never gave Williams preferential treatment.
“Absolutely,” Cuccinelli responded when asked directly if he can could state emphatically that Williams never benefited from his relationship with the Attorney General.
Democrats have pointed to one specific instance, a tax fight that Williams was engaged in with the Commonwealth of Virginia. They claim the Attorney General took his time in prosecuting the case.
Cuccinelli and his deputies in the Attorney General’s office have said that he was personally “walled off” from the Star Scientific case. They provided the Washington Post a timeline that shows how the office handled the case. Cuccinelli told us that at one time Williams complained about his tax situation, but it was before the case was filed and he never asked for any help.
“He moaned one time about how he had been treated by the tax department,” Cuccinelli said. “But there was no case and we didn’t talk about it.”
Cuccinelli asked Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, a Democrat, to personally review his connection to Williams. Herring found no evidence that Cuccinelli broke the law. Cuccinelli said he also was questioned by federal investigators about Williams, but was never the target of any investigation.
“Yes, I was asked questions about Jonnie,” he said. “But that was months and months ago.”
The Attorney General and candidate for Governor is now hoping this issue is in the past. He said he is ready to start talking about the real issues in the race.
“I called people together to share my mistakes and then turned it over to a Democrat prosecutor who cleared me of any wrong doing but that doesn’t mean the people of Virginia are happy with it,” he said. “Obviously the people of Virginia aren’t happy with it, we are trying to wipe the slate clean so we can focus on the real issues that matter in people’s lives in Virginia.”
Extended clips from our interview:
On why he decided to give back the gifts:
On his connection to Jonnie Williams, Governor Bob McDonnell & his role in the investigation into the matter: