Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-34th, became the first state legislator to "humbly suggest" that Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell resign amid a continuing scandal over his family's relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.
McDonnell is currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation due to the relationship.
Three months ago, the Washington Post launched a series of reports on the cozy relationship between McDonnell and Williams. The businessman, the Post reported, paid $15,000 for catering at the June 2011 wedding of the governor's daughter – resulting in an overpayment of $3,500, which was handed over to McDonnell's wife, who three days before the wedding traveled to Florida to speak about a Star Scientific dietary supplement to investors and scientists. The governor hosted a kickoff event at his official residence for Williams' company in August 2011, the same month the businessman gave him a $6,500 Rolex watch.
The relationship included McDonnell borrowing Williams' vacation home in western Virginia and his luxury cars. McDonnell's wife, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported last week, was treated by Williams to a $10,000 Oscar de la Renta suede jacket, two pairs of designer shoes, a Louis Vuitton leather handbag and a designer dress during a spring 2011 trip to New York.
In April, the governor brushed off the federal probe during a radio interview, saying of Williams, "I've been blessed to have a lot of friends."
"In recent weeks, I have read numerous reports regarding gifts your family reportedly received from Mr. Johnnie [sic] Williams and his company Star Scientific, Inc.," Petersen wrote this week in a letter to McDonnell, a copy of which was provided to U.S. News.
"The substance of these reports gives the strong impression that your family was materially and systematically benefited by this person and his company, at least over the past two years."
Petersen informed the governor it was "unacceptable," in his judgment, "that you allowed this person to use the Governor's Mansion and the Governor's Office for the purpose of giving unique credibility to his company."
"If you are unable to explain (or deny) these reports or return the items, then I humbly suggest that you should step down as Governor," Petersen wrote. "If those gifts are retail consumer items which you have retained for personal use, then you should return them immediately to the donor – or sell them and donate the money to the Literary Fund. That is the only method by which the public can regain trust in your Office. Without that trust, there is no purpose in continuing to serve."
McDonnell spokesperson Taylor Keeney denounced the letter as a “blatantly political statement" in an email to U.S. News.
“As we have stated before, we are aware of no economic development grants, targeted tax incentives, government contracts or board appointments received by Star Scientific or Jonnie Williams during this Administration,” Keeney said. “As an attorney, certainly Senator Peterson [sic] understands this office’s not discussing the details of matters pending in the legal process. And, as a legislator, certainly Senator Peterson [sic] is aware that Virginia’s disclosure requirements do not pertain to the families of elected officials.”
Calls to Petersen's Fairfax, Va., office were sent to voicemail.
Despite the string of embarrassing news stories, McDonnell is still popular in his state, which has insulated him from criticism. A poll conducted June 5-6 by Rasmussen found that 59 percent of Virginians approved of his performance. The governor won election in 2009 and is unable to seek re-election this year because of term limits.
Updated 07/02/13: This article was updated with a statement from McDonnell’s office.