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The Republican’s determination to keep his old job is making it increasingly difficult for him to pursue a political promotion.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli moved last week to recuse his office from a felony embezzlement case against a former chef at the Virginia governor’s mansion, the house Cuccinelli hopes to call home in 2014. In a motion filed in Richmond Circuit Court, the Republican attorney general cited an unspecified conflict of interest as his reason for wanting to step away from a case that has tongues wagging in the state capital.
A Cuccinelli spokesman said the conflict will be explained at a May 2 hearing. But it has become apparent that Cuccinelli’s core conflict stems from his own competing interests. He’s finding out how difficult it is to faithfully execute the office of attorney general and run for a higher office at the same time.
Cuccinelli made his request two days after attorneys for chef Todd Schneider filed a discovery motion seeking potentially embarrassing information about food and liquor that members of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s family may have taken from the mansion. Schneider’s attorneys also want information about gifts the governor and his family accepted from Jonnie Williams Sr., the chief executive of the embattled company Star Scientific, who has ties to the governor and Cuccinelli.
McDonnell and Cuccinelli have reported receiving gifts from Williams, including the use of a lake house. Cuccinelli also was an investor in Star Scientific at the same time his office was representing the state in a tax dispute with the company.
Cuccinelli bowed to public pressure earlier this month and enlisted outside counsel to handle the Star Scientific case, while denying that he had a conflict of interest. He then unloaded his remaining Star Scientific shares, taking a loss on the transaction. Now he wants out of the Schneider case, and accuses defense attorneys of trying to politicize the matter.
Cuccinelli apparently wants to make a clean break from Williams and Star Scientific before the campaign kicks into high gear. But he can’t run away from his own slow-footed responses on high-profile ethical questions he has confronted as attorney general.
Cuccinelli was slow to recognize even a potential conflict in the Star Scientific case. Three years ago, he stubbornly held onto $55,500 in campaign contributions from a man known as Bobby Thompson after Virginia and other states launched investigations of the suspect charity Thompson claimed to run. Cuccinelli finally donated the funds to veterans groups.
Cuccinelli has said he is determined to complete the four-year term that voters awarded him in 2009. Voters will get to decide if they’ve been well-served by a man who is trying to fulfill his duties as Virginia’s top lawyer while aggressively pursuing a better job.
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