"Nothing that is publicly available indicates that he has broken any laws and the key point is Williams has gotten nothing, not one thing, from the administration," said one person close to the governor who did not want to be identified talking about a legal investigation. "The governor may have misreported some gifts, but it seems clear he didn't break any laws."
A man under siege
At the same time, McDonnell is behaving like a man under siege. He has hired a veteran communications strategist, Rich Galen, to help manage the crisis, and on Tuesday he hired a former U.S. attorney, John Brownlee, onto his private legal team.
The moves suggest McDonnell is aware of the seriousness of the investigation and is bracing for a fight. The person close to the governor said the swirling controversy has "been very hard on him personally."
McDonnell's advisers insist he has no plans to resign before his term expires next January -- although that calculus could change if he is indicted, a what-if scenario that has the Richmond political class buzzing.
But even if federal authorities decline to pursue charges against McDonnell, he will leave office a greatly diminished politician.
"The Republican now faces the real possibility of leaving Richmond next January as a Richard Nixon-like figure: embattled stonewaller disconnected from events; branded by enemies as shady, dismissed by sympathizers as naïve," Schapiro, the bow-tie wearing oracle of the Times-Dispatch, wrote in a June column.
"These are images that will overshadow the one profile McDonnell refined over two decades in public life: hard-working, earnest, a guy of the people rather than above them, a disciplined, self-described problem-solver."
McDonnell's problems burst into pubic view in March, when The Post reported that Williams picked up the expensive catering tab for the wedding of McDonnell's daughter, a $15,000 check that McDonnell aides said he did not report because it was a "gift" to the newly wedded couple and not the governor.
That piece of information appeared to come from Todd Schneider, the former chef of the Virginia Executive Mansion who catered the wedding but is now facing felony charges for embezzling state money. In court filings, Schneider's attorneys said that the chef alerted investigators about gifts from Williams to the McDonnell family.
The initial Post story prompted other disclosures about the close relationship between Williams and the McDonnell family, including that Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida to promote one of Williams' supplements at a conference, and that McDonnell's political action committee hosted an lunch promoting the supplement at the governor's mansion.
Williams also reportedly picked up Maureen McDonnell's tab for a $15,000 shopping binge at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, and bought the governor a $6,500 Rolex watch at her urging. None of those lavish purchases were reported by McDonnell.
Some Richmond insiders initially downplayed the revelations as "Maureen being Maureen," as one state House Republican put it, acknowledging the demanding reputation of McDonnell's wife.
But that sentiment changed last week after The Post revealed the Rolex gift and uncovered a $70,000 payment from Williams to a company owned by McDonnell and his sister. According to the paper, McDonnell considered the payment a loan. Corporate loans are exempt from state disclosure laws.
'A real sea change'
"Between the watch and the loan situation, that kind of turned everybody's opinion around here to, well, has he been involved in this from the beginning?" said one Republican in the Capitol who is close to the administration, but would only speak on the condition of anonymity. "Was he part of a concerted effort to deceive? It's been a real sea change since those stories."
"He has always been honest and ethical and gone out of his way to make sure that everyone fills their positions with the highest ethics, and hold ourselves to a higher standard," the Republican said. "The prevailing sentiment around here is, that's not the guy we know."
Republicans here worry that the McDonnell scandal will tarnish their standard-bearer in this year's governor's race: Cuccinelli, the state Attorney General who was hoping to use ethics as a wedge issue against his opponent, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli has also been on the receiving end of Williams' generosity, having collected more than $18,000 in gifts from the executive and staying at his vacation house on Smith Mountain Lake.
Like McDonnell, Cuccinelli failed to disclose some of these gifts and trips, though they totaled far less than what McDonnell and his family received from Williams. But Cuccinelli amended his statement of economic interest in April to include the gifts. His campaign called his omissions "inadvertent."
The attorney general also purchased stock in Star Scientific, but the campaign said Cuccinelli never discussed specific stock purchases with Williams. He sold off all of his holdings in Star in April "upon the counsel of his financial adviser," the campaign said.
Cuccinelli, though, has taken steps to separate himself from the governor, calling for more stringent ethics laws. He also initiated a state investigation into McDonnell's financial disclosures in late 2012.
Last week, the Republican candidate was asked about the McDonnell saga while on the campaign trail.
"What we've all been seeing has been very painful for Virginia, and it's been completely inconsistent with Virginia's very reserved traditions," Cuccinelli said.