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Ken Cuccinelli sees no need to investigate his own possible conflict

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Politics,Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell face on-going scrutiny over their financial and personal relationships with a company embroiled in a state lawsuit, but have so far avoided any official legal action.

If there were an investigation into their finances, it would have to be launched by Cuccinelli, who as Virginia's top legal officer would "review any disclosure statement ...for the purpose of determining satisfactory compliance" and is responsible for investigating "matters that come to his attention reflecting possible violations," according to Virginia law.

The attorney general's office said there has been no wrongdoing on Cuccinelli's part that requires investigating, but Democrats said it is a conflict of interest for Cuccinelli to play legal referee on a case involving himself and the governor, both Republicans.

Cuccinelli is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed McDonnell as governor.

Cuccinelli and McDonnell's financial disclosure forms show thousands of dollars in gifts received from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of Henrico-based Star Scientific, a company suing the state over back taxes. Cuccinelli recently recused himself from the Star Scientific case after Democrats criticized his involvement.

Cuccinelli bought more than $10,000 in Star Scientific stock, but initially failed to disclose it, he said, because he didn't realize he had to. He increased his holdings in 2011, after the company sued the state, creating a case that, as the state's top lawyer, he would have handled. Cuccinelli said he was unaware of the case and did not interfere with the attorney in his office working on it.

The Republican sold 1,500 of his shares last year for a $4,000 profit, tax returns released last week show. His remaining 8,660 shares were sold earlier this month at a $7,000 loss to Cuccinelli, his campaign confirmed Saturday.

"Virginians deserve accountability that right now just doesn't exist," said Brian Coy, spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party. "It's time for Ken Cuccinelli to resign and come clean about why he bought stock and campaigned for Star Scientific while they were suing Virginia."

Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said any implication of malfeasance is "pure fantasy."

"The attorney general's disclosure was filed according to the law," Gottstein said.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, said the Star Scientific issue does raise red flags that could warrant an investigation.

"Most of that authority lies in the attorney general's office, which makes sense in most cases because he's the lead lawyer in the state," Tobias said. "But when there might be the appearance of conflict, it would be an appropriate course to hire someone from the outside" to handle the case.

Siding with Cuccinelli is a former Democratic attorney general in Virginia, Andrew Miller, who wrote in The Richmond Times-Dispatch Saturday that Cuccinelli had handled the Star Scientific case properly.

"Despite the clear lack of evidence, Cuccinelli's detractors continue to dig," Miller said. "They have drilled in a dry hole."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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