Updated 2:39 p.m. ET, 1/23/2014
Richmond, Virginia (CNN) - Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell greeted his pastor, acknowledged the media, and proclaimed himself in good health on Friday in court where he and his wife pleaded not guilty to federal charges they accepted illegal gifts.
Considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012 and a potential candidate for the White House itself down the road, a one-time rising star of the Republican Party has experienced a slow-motion fall from prominence over a scandal involving fancy clothes, golf clubs and a guy named Jonnie.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, appeared in federal court in Richmond to answer a grand jury indictment charging them with 14 counts of fraud by a public official, false statements, and obstruction.
That translates into allegations they accepted a lot of nice stuff from a business executive in return for using the power of the governor's office to benefit his products - a quid pro quo they deny completely.
So convinced is McDonnell, 59, the Justice Department has gone too far and can't win at trial, he apparently rejected a plea deal that would have spared his wife from prosecution, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
The source characterized McDonnell's decision as "throwing his wife under the bus."
The federal probe involved the relationship between the state's first family and Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of a troubled nutritional supplement company, Star Scientific.
Authorities allege that Williams gave gifts and loans to the McDonnell family, and that they promoted his company.
The gifts have been valued at a minimum of $140,000 in total and included designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf clubs, iPhones and a painting, according to a list of items in the indictment.
McDonnell has admitted using poor judgment but nothing worse than that.
"I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship," he said following the indictment.
At the courthouse on Friday, McDonnell looked directly at reporters and greeted them: "Glad you came."
Later Judge David Novak said "the gamesmanship with the media ends now."
Novak said he wants the trial to take place in the courtroom, "not from some anonymous leaker."
The family's priest, Rev. Wayne Ball, met and prayed with family members in the hallway outside the courtroom. He greeted McDonnell and prayed with his wife.
Asked by Novak if he's being treated by a physician, McDonnell said he's taking blood pressure medicine.
"I'm fine, your honor," he added.
McDonnell left office this month following the end of his single term. His next big appointment is scheduled for July when the trial is due to start.