January 21st, 2014
03:47 PM ET
9 years ago

Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell indicted in gift scandal

Updated 7:17 p.m. ET, 1/21/2014

(CNN) - Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, once a rising star in the Republican Party who was considered potential presidential material, was indicted along with his wife on Tuesday on federal charges of accepting illegal gifts.

The 14-count indictment, culminating a lengthy investigation of their relationship with a Virginia business executive, alleges fraud by a public official, false statements, and obstruction.

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Read the indictment

Gifts valued at a minimum of $140,000 in total included designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf clubs, iPhones and a painting, according to a list of items included in the indictment.

Read the list of gifts

McDonnell, who in a statement denied any illegal conduct and called the charges federal government overreach, was elected in 2009 and left office earlier this month after serving one term. Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.

"I come before you this evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused and whose public service has been wrongfully attacked," he said in a televised statement.

The federal probe involved the relationship between the governor and his wife, Maureen, with Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of a troubled nutritional supplement company, Star Scientific.

Authorities allege that Williams gave gifts and loans to the first family of Virginia, and that they promoted his company.

McDonnell admitted to poor judgment in an earlier written statement.

"I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility," he said.

"However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship," he added.

McDonnell's Democratic successor, Terry McAuliffe, issued his own statement after the charges were filed.

"As this case progresses, it is my sincerest hope that justice will be served and that Virginians get the answers to which they are entitled," he said. "As Governor, I will remain focused on leading this Commonwealth in a way that restores Virginians' trust in government and honors their expectation of transparency and accountability."

Within hours of the indictment, McDonnell's legal team launched a forceful attack on the government's case.

The lawyers made two legal filings in federal court in Richmond, one of which invoked an ancient ruler whose tyrannical reign was reputedly marked by financial greed and misdeeds.

"It has been a long time since the Roman Emperor Caligula imprisoned people for violating laws written in tiny lettering on a pillar too high to see," the lawyers wrote in making a comparison to the federal government's case against McDonnell.

McDonnell's lawyers argued his innocence and said the charges were built on a "rickety legal foundation."

"To bring today's indictment, the federal government has concocted a never-before-used legal theory manufactured for the sole purpose of prosecuting Governor McDonnell and his wife," McDonnell's lawyers wrote.

"This new theory contravenes settled judicial precedent and disregards longstanding Virginia law and practice, seeking to punish the McDonnells for conduct that was legal before today," the lawyers said.

The McDonnell legal filings said Williams is under federal investigation for some of the health claims his company made for its products. But the government has offered "blanket immunity" in exchange for cooperation in the McDonnell investigation.

Appearing on CNN's "Crossfire," former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said the indictment was not a surprise considering the public attention the investigation received. He believes the charges will "cause challenges" for Virginia.

"We like to think of ourselves as a pretty smooth-running, clean state. Doesn't mean everything goes the way we want it to all the time - this puts a dent in that and that's not something we're happy to see with the history we've got, which has been pretty darn good," he said.

Cuccinelli, a Republican who served under McConnell, lost the governor's election in November to McAuliffe.

Filed under: Bob McDonnell • Virginia
soundoff (187 Responses)
  1. Flaggy

    Well, two 2016 candidates for the Republican party are now in some hot water. Are there any other candidates that want to throw their hat in the ring yet? Or is this all the better the republican party can do?

    January 21, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  2. Steve - Texas

    Typical GOP ... crooks.

    January 21, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Beth

    He was one of the worst things that has happened to Virginia in many years. So glad he's gone.

    January 21, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. Gary

    a politican taking money and gifts for favor...so when will the other 500 some odd members of congress be charged? Better have that hearing over at Fed Ex Field...

    January 21, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  5. behaviorquest

    Why do these right wing conservative Republican politicians so often look like a tele-evangelist right out of central casting?

    January 21, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. FCN

    At least he wasn't smoking mareewannna

    January 21, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  7. Bytemeagain

    So long Gov. Va-jay-jay Probe.

    January 21, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  8. Wake up People!

    Keep up the good work GOP!!

    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. james

    Groundbreaking news coverage, CNN. Thanks for all the details!

    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  10. SteveInMN


    Another "Family Values Republic" bites the sanctimonious dust!


    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  11. Tea Party crazy

    Another tea party hypocrite.

    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  12. Bob Dobalina

    He has cool hair though.

    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  13. Johnjon

    it looks like the GOP won't have anyone left to run in 2 years.

    January 21, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  14. Dave in DC

    Wow. The Obama WH covers up Benghazi to win an election and nothing happens. Eric Holder and the Justice Department mess up Fast and Furios so badly it costs at least one American their life, and probably many more Mexicans. This guy accepts gifts and we have an indictment. Right......

    January 21, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  15. stormchaser101

    Another sad day for politics in america.No honest people in politics anymore.

    January 21, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  16. bironm

    Systematic political TKO of any viable GOP candidate. This is becoming epic.....

    January 21, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Virginian

    freaking disgrace to Virginia. I demand the Northern Va to be its own state, these southerners are taxing us northers higher to pay for state development. theres no equality when it comes to taxing .We are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to investments and even shorter stick when it comes to representation.

    January 21, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. bironm

    Funny, how all the strong GOP candidates are all being "discovered" to have scandals in their background. Is the Hillary SUPERPAC doing some extra credit homework?

    January 21, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  19. Jeff

    Hmm, has it finally come to the time where people start using all the ammo they've collected against anyone that may run for president in 2016? Could be an interesting 22 months....

    January 21, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. djjimi

    Ha-Ha! 'Bout time. Christie's next.

    January 21, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  21. Dino S.

    Dang, first potential 2016 frontrunner Chris Christie and now another GOP possible contender Bob McDonnell. The Republicans aren't faring too well for taking back the White House. I think Hillary can start measuring the drapes for the East Room.

    January 21, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  22. SeattleExplorer

    Republican Party – death by a few million paper cuts.

    January 21, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  23. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    It looks like the whole GOP is tainted with Christi close behind. The GOP might as well FORGET about the White House and the states that were dumb enough to vote in GOP governors might want to reconsider!!!!

    January 21, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  24. Double b

    About time!...that sanctimonious blow hard has been screwing VA for years. "Compulsory sonograms"...sure, you hypocrite

    January 21, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. gadlaw2012

    I wonder if any of these politicians will ever learn that being elected into public office isn't a license to steal from the people. It does not seem to ever register. And the sad thing or one of the sad things is that they will not learn, this guy still doesn't think he did anything wrong and would do it again.

    January 21, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
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