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. deadlikeme74

    Considering the corruption cases with the Governors of VA and NJ, the GOP could run out of potential candidates for 2016 before the debates start.

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

    Any honest republicans left? Geez

    January 21, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. Louie Beethoven

    This man should be charged with treason. He was entrusted to do the will of his people, and he was up for grabs. He has betrayed all Americans, and he should be banished forever from the United States. And this goes for any politician who's for sale.

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

    Oh, please. Are you gonna tell me that no other Governor and spouse has ever done that before???

    January 21, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  5. rob522

    McDonnell and wife indicted.....Christie plummeting in the polls....is this a great news day or what?

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

    Why is it that Republicans always look like their Mommy dressed them? Always the same cookie cutter hair cut too.

    January 21, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. Republican who supports President Obama

    The truth comes out finally about this guy and I am certainly happy he is no longer in office. Once again another example why I will not vote for the GOP for the next few cycles. Our elected officials need to wake up and be honest when representing the people who vote for them – regardless of party. This guy only wanted to line his own pocket and benefit from favors. He should be held accountable and the people on the right should not rush to defend him just because he is republican – he should be held accountable regardless of party.

    January 21, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  8. rob522

    McDonnell and wife indicted.....Christie plummets in polls.....is this a great news day or what?

    January 21, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. jewoodbur

    An unending stream of crooks from both parties...

    January 21, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  10. HJA

    A politician accepting gifts??? Can't be true!!!

    January 21, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  11. current state of the union

    Like usual, the gop only gets it half right, tax cuts for the rich create jobs, in Mexico and china, and the company gets to use money it would pay the government to finance the move, nothing but the most effective way to kill good jobs, while maximizing profits for the wealthy. How anyone can vote for these fools is amazing

    January 21, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  12. gladitorgrl

    The one-term Republican, who left office earlier this month, was once considered a potential White House contender in 2016

    another one bites the dust!!!! gotta luv those "values"

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

    Politicians are corrupt and are in the pockets of special interest groups. Both the dems and repubs are guilty. We need to root out these bad apples and punish them so others will see the negative effects of their corrpution.

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

    Another corrupt GOP member. Isn't that redundant?

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

    "Federal charges were filed..."

    Who files federal charges? The U.S. Department of Justice.

    Who heads the U.S. Department of Justice? Eric Holder.

    To whom does Eric Holder directly report? President Obummer

    Is this how they do politics in the Democratic party in general, and in Chicago in particular? Yes. Get your opponents out of office and then prosecute them to the fullest extent of your power. Put them in prison for years.

    The Democrats: the party who's looking out for the "little guy." LMFAO

    January 21, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  16. rob522

    Hope they make The McDonnell's pay back the $800,000 in legal costs to the good citizens of Virginia.

    January 21, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  17. jewoodbur

    Campaign finance reform...they were building their war chest for run for higher office, no doubt.

    January 21, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  18. Chris

    "The one-term Republican, who left office earlier this month" is a bit deceptive. There is a one (consecutive) term limit in VA, and his ended in January. This quote makes it sound like he failed a reelection bid. Which he would have.

    January 21, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  19. john

    Perhaps someone should have forced him to have an ultrasound before they removed his brain, heart. and conscience, he might have reconsidered..... naaaaaah!

    January 21, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. Peter Gerdeman

    Finally! It is about time this catches up to them.

    January 21, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. jewoodbur

    bawevi...ya got two words right in your post...the last two.

    January 21, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. sly

    "once considered a Republican candidate for President".

    Heck, now that he's been caught, he is once again a viable candidate – he can run with Mobster Crook Christie, and probably gain the Republican nomination.

    Who else do the Confederates have to run? Palin-Romney in 2016!

    January 21, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  23. BeverlyNC

    What a shock. Another Republican Governor abusing his power. Senator Vitter (R) Louisiana still serving after a prostitution scandal now deciding to run for Governor of Louisiana. Florida Republican Congressman Radel arrested for cocaine possession while buying it. He ran to 30 days in rehab and right back into Congress with no sanctions or call for him to resign by his Party. Republican states with the "cheat to win" tactics of voter suppression laws, gerrymandering districts, and with Republican Supreme Court Justices passing Citizens United – corporations can know spend as much money as they like trying to buy elections they could not otherwise win.
    This Republican Congress now known for being the most "do-nothing" Congress in our nation's history. No legislation. Obstruction of all legislation from the Senate to benefit education, infrastructure, new energy, and even returning veterans aid. Ending unemployment insurance coverage sending these people to our welfare rolls while wanting to cut $40B from the food stamp program. Degrading the poor as "lazy" with false racial myths while the largest growing number of poor are our returning veterans, followed by the elderly, and the largest group being children of families working 40 hour jobs but only at a minimum wage Republicans even refuse to consider.
    Why would anyone trust a Republican or trust a Republican to do what is right, moral, and humane for the People? Get out and vote this November and let's put real leaders into local, state, and national seats who will move us forward not stay mired in obstruction, corruption, lies, bigotry, and destruction of the most critical and successful programs Americans depend upon.

    January 21, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  24. Are you kidding me

    Seriously, does anyone truly believe that a "non" corrupt politician actually exists in this country? (if you do I have some nice swamp land for sale)

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

    Republican politicians currently have a slightly better reputation than Satan, but I predict Satan will be pulling ahead by the 2014 election cycle.

    January 21, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
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