Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., has a resume that should put him in good company with other 2016 Republican presidential contenders: Swing-state governor, retired military officer, and national recognition in Republican circles from his time chairing the Republican Governors' Association. But he's now embroiled in a controversy that has the potential to derail any future ambitions for higher office.
The Washington Post reported this week that a Virginia businessman gave $145,000 to McDonnell and members of his family in the form of loans, donations, and gifts between 2011 and 2012. It's the latest development in the scandal involving the McDonnells' relationship to Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., the head of the nutritional supplement company Star Scientific. The McDonnells have helped promote the company, including hosting an event at the Executive Mansion in Richmond to launch a new product.
In a few public statements on the matter, McDonnell has said he disclosed all donations as required by Virginia law and that Star Scientific did not receive special treatment. Aides to the governor point out that under Virginia law, elected officials do not need to disclose loans given to businesses or gifts to family members.
"Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams have not received any board appointments, economic development grants, targeted tax incentives or government contracts during this administration," McDonnell press secretary Taylor Thornley Keeney said in a written statement. "The governor has been diligent over the years in making his financial disclosures."
That hasn't stopped the Post editors from excoriating McDonnell, calling his personal life an example of "profligacy, irresponsibility and entitlement" in a blistering editorial. Two Democratic state legislators have called on McDonnell to resign. And the scandal is threatening to embroil the Republicans' gubernatorial nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, who also has a relationship with Williams.
"What we've all been seeing is very painful for Virginia, and it's completely inconsistent with Virginia's very reserved traditions," Cuccinelli said in a statement that seemed to distance himself from McDonnell. "All of this emphasizes the need for clearer and faster disclosures that cover the whole family, as well as a cap on the size and types of gifts."
During the 2012 campaign, McDonnell was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate or future cabinet secretary for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Virginia governors are limited to one term, so McDonnell will leave office in January 2014 with two years to plot his political future. He does have accomplishments from his time in office, including a steadily falling unemployment rate that stood at 5.3 percent in May and a a large transportation overhaul enacted this spring. But the Star Scientific scandal could dog him.
"It'll be a question or questions that he would have to answer down the road," says one prominent Republican strategist. "But depending on how it plays, it doesn't mean it's disqualifying in the future. He's been a great governor, he's a very attractive candidate, he's articulate. Depending on how this plays out, people could be in a very forgiving mood."
How the controversy plays out will also depend on both the FBI and Virginia state prosecutors. Both are reportedly investigating whether any of Williams' payments to the McDonnells were illegal.
"It's done," another Washington-based Republican said about McDonnell's 2016 changes. "That conversation doesn't even exist. The conversation now is if there is going to be a resignation."
That's an ignominious position to be in for someone once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party.
Here's what else the potential 2016 candidates have been up to this week, courtesy of CBS News' Jaclyn Peiser:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: The Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday that a co-author of Paul's book "The Tea Party Goes to Washington" and close aide to the senator had previously expressed admiration for the Confederacy. Paul hired Jack Hunter to assist on his book in 2010 and then later made Hunter his social media director. Hunter had a radio program, "The Southern Avenger," in which he openly discussed racial pride, pro-secession ideals, and praised John Wilkes Booth for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. Paul responded in an interview with the Huffington Post on Thursday saying that he doesn't agree with all of Hunter's past statements but he still stood by his aide saying that Hunter "is incredibly talented."
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono released an online attack ad on Tuesday accusing Christie of focusing too much on the 2016 campaign rather than on the issues facing New Jersey. The Democratic candidate even made a jab at Christie's trips to Iowa, saying, "There's no fried butter in Newark, just 13 percent unemployment."
Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.: A Wisconsin federal judge this week blocked a law that increases restrictions on doctors performing abortions. Walker last Friday and it took effect on Monday. The judge ruled that banning doctors who don't have admitting privileges to local hospitals from performing abortions is unconstitutional and violates due process.
Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas: Rick Perry announced on Monday thatof Texas. Perry held a private gathering for close friends and supporters in San Antonio to announce his political future. Although he did not officially declare that he will attempt another run for president in 2016, he said in a Fox News interview that it is "certainly" an option.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.: Santorum went to Austin on Thursday to show his support for the Texas abortion bill. The former senator held a press conference with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, R-Texas, state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-Texas, and other conservative activists to praise Texas lawmakers for "standing up for life."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton received a library of her own in Little Rock on Monday. The former first lady of Arkansas celebrated the event by reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" in her newly dedicated Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library and Learning Center. That evening Clinton helped honor Oscar de la Renta at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center where one of her infamous pantsuits and many other de la Renta pieces are on display.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.: At an event in Buffalo on Tuesday, Cuomo told the press that despite his continued efforts, he is not optimistic about receiving federal funds to help with the flooding in upstate New York. And when asked about his opinion on both disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner and disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer running for office in New York City, Cuomo responded, "I am just watching the theater that is going on in New York City in this political season."
Vice President Joe Biden: The vice presidenton Tuesday at the funeral for the 19 firefighters who died in the Arizona wildfire last month. Biden noted that the Granite Mountain Hotshots were "an elite unit in every sense of that phrase" and "they saw their jobs not as jobs, but as a duty, a duty to their fellow citizens." Biden was joined by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md.: The Maryland governor attended a fundraiser on Wednesday for Virginia Democrat and gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe. O'Malley, accompanied by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, headlined the event in Annapolis at the home of former ambassador to Sweden Thomas L. Siebert.