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McDonnell keeps lawyering up, with Brownlee latest hire

(AP) Gov. Bob McDonnell added former Virginia U.S. attorney John Brownlee to the private legal team he’s assembling to cope with state and federal investigations into gifts to him and his family from the head of a troubled nutritional supplements maker.

John Brownlee, appointed chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Virginia from 2001 through 2008 by former President George W. Bush, joins a legal team McDonnell is assembling.

Rich Galen, a veteran Republican spokesman and strategist who worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and was a former director of the Republican political action committee GOPAC, confirmed Brownlee’s appointment July 18. Galen was hired last week to direct the governor’s private legal team.

Brownlee, who lost the 2009 Republican Virginia Attorney General nomination to Ken Cuccinelli, now leads the white-collar defense team for the Washington, D.C., law firm of Holland and Knight.

Federal and state investigators are examining the relationship between McDonnell and his immediate family and Jonnie R. Williams, chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., and whether McDonnell used his office to help promote the company’s new anti-inflammatory product in return for money and gifts to his family.

The gifts are not listed on McDonnell’s required annual statements of economic interest. McDonnell has defended his decision not to report them on grounds that state law compels only disclosure of gifts given directly to officeholders, not their immediate family members. Nor does it require disclosure of personal friends, McDonnell has argued, claiming Williams and his wife as family friends.

Separately, there have been more than $108,000 in political contributions from Star Scientific to McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign and his political action committee.

Star Scientific is the subject of a federal securities investigation and shareholder lawsuits.

The Executive Mansion’s former chef, Todd Schneider, also claims that McDonnell’s family took state-owned food and other items from the mansion for personal use, according to motions related to his pending felony theft trial. Schneider, facing four embezzlement counts alleging he stole items from the mansion kitchen, has made the accusations in Richmond Circuit Court motions. Schneider also contends that he was told by the McDonnell administration to similarly help himself to taxpayer-purchased items from the mansion pantry in lieu of money as payment for catering mansion events.

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