January 24th, 2014
09:40 AM ET
10 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. Malory Archer

    smith

    Alot poltical people(Bob Mac-corrupt) and groups(Battleground Texas liberals-making fun of people in wheelchairs) doing stupid things these days.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    You still attempting to trout out that false equivalence? While they both did "stupid things", the liberals you cite were, at worst, jerks. The governor OTOH, has been indicted on criminal charges.

    January 24, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  2. Malory Archer

    tom l

    @Rudy
    "Unfortunately, the right wing does not believe that you work as hard as the makers. In fact, the right does not believe that you have ever work at all, nor plan to ever work in your life"
    ====

    Huh? I don't get it. I don't think you understand conservatives whatsoever with a comment like that. The one thing that I would think you would take away from the right wing is that they feel that you should work for what you get and nothing in life should be just handed to you. Can you give me more insight and instances of why you say that?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Herman Cain said "if you're not rich it's your own fault".

    January 24, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  3. Ian's Rushtache

    GI Joe
    I don't know who "Source" is, but CNN uses him/her a lot and I'd love to know. Or does it mean "this is what we think"?

    January 24, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |

    ______________________________________________________________

    Actually believes CNN is the only news source in the history of reporting to use an undisclosed source. Face palm.

    January 24, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  4. Malory Archer

    VJ

    Jesse Jackson Jr = Bob McDonnell.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Only if McDonnell meets the same fate as Jackson.

    January 24, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  5. Tim

    I disagree with the assertion that conservatives are the problem here. We have just as many corrupt liberals and even corrupt moderates. The problem is that we have built a system where big money makes the policy decisions in our government. Special interests have hijacked our government, and we truly are the ones to blame. We are to blame because we put these people in power. We continue to vote for politicians that we know to be corrupt simply because we agree with them ideologically. If we want our government back, we really must clean house. Term limits for Senators and Representatives would not be a bad idea either. It wouldn't give them enough time to consolidate so much power that they are difficult to prosecute, and it would make it more difficult to continually corrupt the system without fear of prosecution. I think that one of the reasons this guy was caught is the fact that he got caught before he had been in long enough to consolitdate this type of power. I can reasonably assure you that there are other politicians doing the exact same thing that will never be prosecuted, because they are simply too powerful.

    January 24, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. Sheila

    So, liberals, who is next? Are you going to eliminate all who might be a candidate in the next election? And, why isn't Hillary indicted?

    January 24, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  7. al

    @ lolita from rhode island
    " If the "magic" between each other dies, then it's time to move on."
    A marriage is more than 'are we having fun', it's more than 'magic'
    in fact sometimes, it's hard work.
    I know that pop culture feel good made for TV romances make people think that way,
    but it's as real as the cinderella story.

    January 24, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  8. danomite

    Another day, another possible GOP Presidential candidate discredited. Next!

    January 24, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  9. Larry L

    @smith

    "Alot poltical people(Bob Mac-corrupt) and groups(Battleground Texas liberals-making fun of people in wheelchairs) doing stupid things these days."
    -------
    I see the predictable right-wing political distortions are underway... The "secret video" regarding Wendy Davis is a dishonest political trick. Look at the video! They associate two unidentified women who say ridiculous things. Wendy Davis says nothing controversial. The claim the phrase "Stand with Wendy" ridicules Greg Abbot's wheelchair. WENDY WAS REQUIRED TO STAND FOR HOURS TO FILIBUSTER THE DRACONIAN ANTI-ABORTION RIGHTS LAWS! SHE WORE A UNIRARY CATHETER BECAUSE THEY WOULDN'T LET HER GO TO THE BATHROOM! STAND WITH WENDY REFERED TO THAT EFFORT- THE THING THAT PUT HER IN THE LIMELIGHT! The video is a cheap, Tea Party trick. Don't fall for yet another Republican conspiracy.

    January 24, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  10. SPVANDERWAHL

    As a former resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I will not be mourning if both McConnell and his spouse are jailed. It wasn't enough for Bob and Maureen to take as much as they could from the state coffers, they had to get illegal gifts also – lock the door behind them and lose the key!

    January 24, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  11. Bzarr

    @Tim-You mean like when former Gov. Sanford was elected to the house after leaving his state hanging while he chased his latin lover to s america?

    January 24, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. MarkinFL

    IF they were illegal. Virgina law is notoriously lax (practically nonexistent) . They may have been greedy but may not have actually broken any laws. If that is the case why should he plead guilty?

    Not defending his gift taking, but he may be smart not to plead.

    January 24, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  13. jdc

    Ok.. Let's see.

    Blagovich (sp) was CONICTED of multiple felonies including bribary. Was he simply a "liberal jerk"? And before we go any further I would point out that I don't support what McDonnel did in the least and I think he should be prosecuted to the fulest extent of the law if he is convicted.

    I am simply pointing out the hypocrisy that both sides seem to have. It's teribble evil and repulsive when it's the other side's politicians that are in the spotlight but it's justifiable and simply a product of the political environment when it's people from my own party. This right here is the problem this counrty is facing. Wake up America. The politicians (right and left) don't represent you. Both are corrupt. And this won't change.

    January 24, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "why isn't Hillary indicted?"

    For what crime? Name it, list the elements, and provide a detailed explanation of what she did that fits the elements.

    January 24, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. Silence DoGood

    @Sheila
    So, liberals, who is next? Are you going to eliminate all who might be a candidate in the next election? And, why isn't Hillary indicted?
    --------
    The Benghazi thing is so dead at this point. Try switching to Ms.Clinton's birth certificate.

    January 24, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "Attempting to use the threat of charges against someone's wife in order to coerce a guilty plea is rather despicable,"

    Her actions fit the elements of the crime well enough that a grand jury made up of her fellow citizens, conducted before a judge, decided there was enough there that she should be indicted so that a trial jury made of her fellow citizens could determine whether she committed it. It has nothing to do with charging her willy-nilly just for the sake of leverage over her husband or because Obama or Holder or the DOJ are directing doing it all on their own.

    January 24, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  17. just asking

    didn't the previous democrat governor (keane) also accept these sorts of gifts in the past? i wonder why they aren't also going after him?

    January 24, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. Tim

    Actually I am from SC, and I consider this a travesty. Sadly, as terrible a governor as he was, he was still a better governor than our current. I consistently vote for the Democrat on the ticket for governor of SC, but I know it is highly unlikely that they will win. I am truly an independent though, voting for both Republicans and Democrats. One of the most important things to me is honesty from a candidate. Unfortunately I usually have to vote for the least dishonest candidate.

    January 24, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. MTATL67

    That is the party of 'look out for number one, yourself'. At this rate the Republican party will not win the White House for generations.

    January 24, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  20. smith

    @Larry-Wendy Davis has already came out an denounced the groups actions. The video speaks for itself, being in denial doesn`t change it.

    January 24, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  21. Grinning Libber

    The party of "family values"
    When things get tuff toss the family under the bus.

    January 24, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  22. Mike

    I've read the indictment, and these people are bad news. There is every reason to put them in the slammer.

    January 24, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    tom l. wrote:

    Huh? I don't get it. I don't think you understand conservatives whatsoever with a comment like that. The one thing that I would think you would take away from the right wing is that they feel that you should work for what you get and nothing in life should be just handed to you. Can you give me more insight and instances of why you say that?
    --------------------------–
    Okay.

    "The one thing that I would think you would take away from the right wing is that they feel that you should work for what you get and nothing in life should be just handed to you. "

    January 24, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. You say what

    This man didn't throw his wife under the bus but instead he made her the driver of the bus. Making it seem as though he had no idea about the deals she was making is very shrewd. She is not an elected official and therefore isn't held to the same rules as he is. I don't agree with how it was done and wish they would include family members but it appears to be perfectly legal.

    January 24, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. Keith

    They both belong in prison. He didnt' throw her under the bus, she took more bribes than he did.

    January 24, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
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