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Gov. McDonnell to Return Gifts in Effort to Restore Trust

July 30, 2013

Gov. Bob McDonnell is preparing to give gifts back as part of an attempt to restore trust in him amid the gift-giving scandal that's rocked Virginia.

"I like to think of people, when they give gifts, that they think of how appropriate they are, whether it's good timing for such a gift and whether the gift will be appreciated," said Robyn Jackson, a local etiquette expert and director of the Civility School.

McDonnell said Tuesday on WTOP that he wants to restore trust to Virginia, so he'll return remaining gifts given to him and his family by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

"I think that's important to have that restored, so that is the first of many things I intend to do," McDonnell said.

Jackson said there is a proper way to give a gift back.

"If someone feels like they need to return a gift in order to establish boundaries or to keep clear boundaries, the other person needs to be respectful of that," she said.

The controversy stems from unreported gifts to the governor and his family, including a Rolex watch that at face value was worth $6,500.

"It's really similar to a car. You do lose a lot of value right away," said Robert Downie, an appraiser for Keller & George Jewelers. "Most watches are probably going to decrease as much as 50 percent, but some of the higher-end watches hold their value a little more."

The watch in question, which Williams gave to McDonnell's wife Maureen, who in turn gave it to the governor, has an engraving that reads "71st Governor of Virginia."

"Items that are unique or commemorate something can often create interest from collectors," Downie said. "A piece like a Rolex, a very desirable watch, anything that makes it unique could possibly increase its value 50 percent -- 100 percent if it's something really unusual."

McDonnell made the announcement as the Washington Post reports that his defense team is charging the commonwealth about $54,000 for his defense in an embezzlement case involving a former executive chef.

Many Democrats are now pushing attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to follow the governor's lead. The Republican candidate for governor also has ties to Williams, but an independent investigation revealed Cuccinelli broke no laws.

Still, the University of Virginia's Center for Politics says Cuccinelli is trying to keep his distance from the scandal.

"I do think that Cuccinelli is probably in a position where he's basically just going to try to separate himself as much as possible from McDonnell, and perhaps fortunately for him, the two are not very close," said Geoff Skelley, a political analyst at the Center for Politics. "Cuccinelli's probably in a position where he could separate himself from McDonnell, but will it be enough that it separates the two in voters' eyes, we'll just have to see."

Gifts from Williams to Cuccinelli are reported to be worth about $18,000.

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