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POLITICS: PennAve

Tim Kaine, Mark Warner steer clear of Gov. Bob McDonnell's problems

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Politics,News,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Governor,Campaigns,PennAve,Bob McDonnell

If Virginia Democrats are looking for help in pressuring Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to resign, they can rule out the state's U.S. senators, both of them Democrats and former governors.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine shrugged off questions Tuesday into whether McDonnell should step down from office amid a FBI probe into his relationship with businessman Jonnie Williams. Earlier Tuesday, McDonnell vowed to return thousands of dollars worth of gifts from Williams, the CEO of Henrico-based Star Scientific, and last week repaid more than $120,000 in loans Williams made to the McDonnell family.

The FBI is investigating whether Williams received any special benefits from the state in exchange for showering McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell with designer clothes, jewelry, vacations and even dental work. Williams also picked up the $15,000 tab at the wedding of one the McDonnell's daughters, though the governor indicated Tuesday that gift has been repaid.

Though some Democratic lawmakers in the state have called for McDonnell to resign, Kaine and Warner, both former governors, are not joining the chorus.

"I'm withholding all comments until all the facts come out," said Warner, who was governor in 2002 when Star Scientific was awarded an economic development grant.

While Kaine, McDonnell's predecessor, called the ongoing scandal "a sad situation," but said it wasn't appropriate to chime in.

"I generally feel like the right thing for a governor to do is not overly comment on issues about the successor," Kaine told the Washington Examiner. "We don't look over each other's shoulders."

McDonnell, Warner and Kaine enjoy a professionally cordial relationship. McDonnell served as attorney general while Kaine was governor, and Kaine was lieutenant governor during Warner's administration while McDonnell was in the House of Delegates.

Kaine did say McDonnell's actions highlighted a need by the Virginia General Assembly to review the state's gift and campaign disclosure laws. McDonnell called for similar reforms, but isn't using his executive powers to bring the legislature into a special session to consider such changes.

Kaine thought a special session "could be a very helpful thing" but

acknowledged it could also become overly political amid the state's high-profile gubernatorial race.

"From a policy standpoint, the rules are too lax," Kaine said. "I hope this will be an impetus for the legislature to take an ethics commission and other rule changes seriously.

"Something good," he said, "can come out of the something bad."

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