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Virginia governor says unaffected by reported FBI probe

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) during their annual meeting in Washington, Feb
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) during their annual meeting in Washington, Feb

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell on Tuesday declined to confirm a newspaper report that the FBI was investigating his relationship with a political campaign donor but said that any probe would not affect his ability to govern the state.

McDonnell, a Republican who has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential contender, told Washington's WTOP radio that "there is nothing going on that impairs my ability to serve the people of Virginia."

The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to determine whether McDonnell had taken any government actions that would have benefited the donor's company, Star Scientific Inc, a nutritional supplements maker in Henrico County, Virginia.

The governor declined to say in the radio interview "whether there is or is not an investigation" by the FBI into his relationship with Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of Star Scientific.

Williams and Star Scientific have given McDonnell and his political action committee more than $120,000 in publicly disclosed campaign contributions and gifts. McDonnell said that the donor had derived no "special benefits."

McDonnell has acknowledged that he stayed at Williams' home near Roanoke, Virginia, and drove the executive's sports car, a Ferrari, back to Richmond. The governor has also said that Williams gave gifts to him and his family, including writing a check for $15,000 to pay for catering at his daughter's wedding in 2011.

The governor said that the check represented a gift to his daughter and her fiance, and under Virginia law he did not need to report it on his annual disclosure form.

The Washington Post report said McDonnell allowed Star Scientific to use the governor's mansion for a luncheon in 2011 to mark the launch of a Star Scientific product, Anatabloc.

Williams and a spokesman for Star Scientific did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice in Washington, which has taken over press inquiries into the case from the U.S. Attorney's office in Richmond, declined to comment.

The governor's office also did not respond to requests for comment. McDonnell was elected governor in 2009 and state law bars him from re-election.

Speculation about a possible FBI probe was triggered on Monday when the governor's former chef, Todd Schneider, filed papers in Richmond Circuit Court seeking dismissal of embezzlement charges against him. Schneider contended in part that he was a whistleblower who had alerted federal and state authorities to wrongdoing in the governor's office.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Grant McCool)

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