January 24th, 2014
09:40 AM ET
3 months ago

Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, wife plead not guilty to gift charges

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.


Filed under: Bob McDonnell • Virginia
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Lynda/Minnesota

    "rejected a plea deal that would have spared his wife criminal charges, according to a source familiar with criminal case."

    How "Republican" of him.

    Now the question is how much did she understand and when did she understand that she was being played for a fool. If indeed she was being played at all.

    January 24, 2014 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Family Values!

    January 24, 2014 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Of 14 counts, at least 1 is going to stick. You should have took the deal Bob.

    January 24, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  4. Malory Archer

    If he's going down, he's taking her with him!

    January 24, 2014 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  5. Rudy NYC

    I have one question. If he couldn't afford the stuff in the first place, then how was he able to pay it all back? And, he did it so quickly, too. Almost immediately. Inquiring minds want to know.

    January 24, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  6. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    The gifts have been valued at a minimum of $140,000 in total included designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf clubs, iPhones and a painting
    -------------------------------------------
    Let's not forget the daughter's wedding expenses. At the beginning of his term the governor was purchasing items and putting it on the government credit card and was warned by one of his aides that some of the items shouldn't have been charged to the state, but charged to his personal expense account. This is FACT!

    January 24, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  7. The Real Tom Paine

    I guess this must be the war on behalf of women that Huckabee was referring to yesterday.

    January 24, 2014 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  8. MTATL67

    I guess we all now know who the ‘takers’ are that the Republicans keep referring to.

    January 24, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Rudy NYC
    I have one question. If he couldn't afford the stuff in the first place, then how was he able to pay it all back? And, he did it so quickly, too. Almost immediately. Inquiring minds want to know.
    -----------------------------------------
    Very good question. Not to mention they paid it back with interest. Proceed Governor!

    January 24, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. A True Conservative

    Didn't read the article, did you Lynda? If you had read it you would understand why he rejected a plea deal. How "democrat" of you.

    January 24, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  11. stone cold truth

    I deeply regret accepting legal gifts, here's your sign. Is it just me or do these gop crooks think the law just doesn't apply to them, amazing! He will get nothing from this, why plea when I can corrupt? If you can't see this as a problem, you don't want to.

    January 24, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    I bet Bob wishes he was hiking the Appalachian Trail along with Gov. Sanford a few years ago. He could have found him a true soul mate who wasn't such a gold digger.

    January 24, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Dutch wrote:

    "I have one question. If he couldn't afford the stuff in the first place, then how was he able to pay it all back? And, he did it so quickly, too. Almost immediately."

    Very good question. Not to mention they paid it back with interest. Proceed Governor!
    --------------------------
    For now, I'm giving him benefir of the doubt. I don't know what form the reimbursements took. Did he simply return a bunch of used merchandise to Williams, or did he actually compensate Williams financially? The cash "gifts" were less than $50,000, I'm pretty sure.

    January 24, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  14. don in albuquerque

    Well, wasn't that chivalrous of him.

    January 24, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  15. stone cold truth

    So a man who has clearly broke the law, is now a victim. anyone see a pattern here, I don't want anyone in the Whitehouse with such limited moral compass. People like this, you can only imagine what they're capable of. How is he a victim, he admitted accepting the gifts, he knows the rules, yet here he is, Mr. Innocence, what compelled a person to want a man like this in charge?

    January 24, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  16. Ex-Virginian

    Marriages of convenience are not loyal when the hit fits the shan. She was doing her job just like he was. Look pretty, shut up, be a Junior Leaguer and take the heat if they get caught.

    January 24, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  17. Wake up People!

    Wow. What a coward. He couldn't even spare his wife. That shows he thinks he is going to beat this. We'll see.

    January 24, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  18. doug

    They are both likely guilty, so they should both face trial. If, somehow, it turns out that no laws were broken, then she can say she was exonerated by a jury instead of being offered a deal to avoid charges.

    January 24, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  19. Winston Smith

    That say's a lot about this mans character. When faced with insurmountable odds, make sure you take your loved ones down with you. The real bad news here, all republicans are of this caliper. If they know they are going to take a fall, they reach out in all directions to take down whoever they can. CREEPS.

    January 24, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  20. A Kickin' Donkey

    Governor Ultrasound, you might want to confer with Rod Blagovich about how good the US Prosecutors office is at making those charges STICK.

    Mrs. Ultrasound, aka Mrs. McGreedy, you might want to get separate legal counsel. Your husband is going to save his skin at your expense. Of course you are a fair-haired [read: blonde] MWF; who is use to getting a certain benefit of the doubt from American society so your sentence will be lower than his. I'll bet Bobby knows this and is counting on it. No one can blame you for exploiting your fair-haired advantage . . . just know that trump card isn't the quiet kept secret that it use to be and therefore won't work as effectively.

    January 24, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  21. Derek

    Of course everyone just agrees with the Government. Have any of you heard the facts of the case? I mean besides what you got from the media. And where did the media get its facts? Well the Government of course, which is the same party prosecuting this guy. Yes, let's just turn our brains off and let the media and the Government do it all for us.

    This guy has a defense he wants to put on at trial. The Government was using his wife to force him to plea. When he didn't go along with it, the media runs along as the government's lap dog and says he threw his wife under the bus. Totally false, he demanded a trial which is his right.

    January 24, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  22. Dead Bear

    @ A True Conservative... I'm sure your boy will get a slap on the wrist just like that cokehead Radel. And I'm willing to bet any amount of money that if this was a Democrat former governor facing these charges, you'd be howling the loudest that he be hanged from the highest branch.

    January 24, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  23. S.B. Stein

    Did he really understand that all of this would be coming out? The deal would have at least minimized the public record of what they both received. It sounds like these two were bought. Is that far from the truth.

    January 24, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. Dave

    A True Conservative- I read the article and his "reasons" are pretty dimwitted; "The McDonnell team asserted that they did not believe the Justice Department could get a conviction against McDonnell at trial based on the evidence they had, the source added." said every defense attorney ever.

    Again- he could have spared his wife, but was either too dumb or arrogant to do so. So yeah- "how very republican of him."

    January 24, 2014 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  25. The Real Tom Paine

    -A True Conservative

    Didn't read the article, did you Lynda? If you had read it you would understand why he rejected a plea deal. How "democrat" of you.
    ********************
    His defense team did not believe the JD would get a conviction based upon the evidence they had: of course they are going to believe that, but why would someone pull his wife into this? Would you reject it in a similar circumstance, or would you want to get your wife out the mess? He admits to making mistakes, something a former AG would never have accepted when his office was prosecuting a case.

    January 24, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
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