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. Mr_Philosopher

    Mhmmm this popcorn is delicious.

    January 21, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  2. Sheila

    So how important is this compared to Benghazi???????

    January 21, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  3. pbernasc

    another GOP best candidate for Presidency deflating ...
    why am I not surprised?

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

    the re"thugs" can't help but show their true colors

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  5. RS

    Can we give HIM a forced ultrasound now?

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. oldleftcoastdude

    They never learn. The power of the office becomes so heady that they forget that the laws apply to them, as well.

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  7. katdude

    Are the givers charged with giving illegal gifts?

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  8. joe

    before all you liberals chime in, there have been plenty of Dems and Reps who are corrupt

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  9. Durannie

    LOL Now for COOOOOOCHanelli.....and Christie of course....

    Remind folks why they should stop voting GOP!!!!

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  10. Thomas Powell

    This right-wing pandering creep is getting justice. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. May Christie and the rest of the Repugnican crowd feel the same federal heat.

    January 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  11. Atadroc

    How about some details... What kind of gifts? Why are they illegal?

    January 21, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  12. ja

    enough is never enough, greed, despite economic status

    January 21, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  13. Loathstheright

    Never, ever trust any Republican. Good advice.

    January 21, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  14. jake

    Thankfully the rest of our politicians will use this as a lesson not to get caught.

    January 21, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  15. Brian

    Let the political talking points begin! *grabs popcorn and a drink*

    January 21, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  16. Vence

    Oh no! Another Republican in disgrace.

    January 21, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. Voiceinthewind

    And the fat pension and benefits this guy has for life just because he served a few years in congress, what is wrong with this picture?

    January 21, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. The

    Another distinguished member of the moral party aka the western version of Al-quieda. Force yourself on others in the name of God or Allah. I wonder how many virgins the western Al-quieda gets in Heaven

    January 21, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. iceload

    They must get better gifts than me.

    January 21, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. VJ

    I knew this....

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

    Does anyone else have the feeling that someone is simply knocking off a lot of would be challengers to Christie?

    January 21, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  22. Wake up People!

    It looks like he might find out how it feels to be probed......

    January 21, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  23. bawevi

    Somehow this corrupt Republican, like the corrupt Christie, is all Obama's fault... like earthquakes and cancer and cars breaking down on the road are all Obama's fault. Impeach Obama!

    January 21, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  24. No Surprise

    I'm from Richmond. No big surprise here. McDonnell was known for being corrupt.

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

    Another Republican bites the dust. This year is really starting off well. At this rate all of the Republican presidential hopefuls will be under indictment or behind bars by the time the convention rolls around.

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