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. sretakson

    Any honest politicians left???

    January 21, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  2. rickapolis

    Gee, what a shock. They both should go to jail.

    January 21, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  3. t

    ..............and ANOTHER GOP Gov is found to be,,,,,,,,ON THE TAKE................

    January 21, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  4. Cedar Rapids

    And mike brings out the conspiracy claims.
    Grow up mike

    January 21, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  5. Keith

    This is so funny, hope they lock them up for a long time.

    January 21, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. Jamie Fowler

    I knew he would eventually get caught in some mess.....he was one of the few politicians that stood up again allowing gays to marry and gay adoption citing that kids raised in these families generally have more emotional/mental issues

    January 21, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. rickapolis

    Virginia, thy name is corruption.

    January 21, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    NOW who's at risk of being probed, eh Champ?

    January 21, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  9. asimmons_PhD

    Hilarity ensues. After his executive chef was indicted for theft, it was only fair that McDonnell and his wife get the same treatment.

    January 21, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  10. Jacob

    I don't like CNN, but when political corruption is involved, I turn to the 2nd best network for squandering the first amendment... CNN

    January 21, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  11. jim

    I hope america wakes up and starts to elect better politicians. We are surrounded by crooks!!

    January 21, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. cleareye1

    Looks like some 2016 prep work is underway. You can't expose the Republican crooks soon enough.

    January 21, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  13. Eddie Vanmeer

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

    Answer:of the same importance as starting a war under false pretenses, killing 1000's.

    January 21, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  14. George

    A contender for 2016? Who is this guy?

    January 21, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  15. tboyd54

    The democrats keep digging don't they. They will stoop to anything to get Hillary elected. Ms. "I was responsible for our people getting killed in Benghazi". Lets dig into the corruptness of the Democrats for a change.

    January 21, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. ChrisM

    We all knew it was coming, just did not know when. Now it is here are they are going to jail. Same with the Christie Admin and Christie to be determined in the future

    January 21, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  17. Silence DoGood

    @RS "Can we give HIM a forced ultrasound now?"
    His punishment should be to submit to medical body scans. I am thinking twilight zone episode. Nothing says freedom like telling people what to do with their bodies in private!!!

    January 21, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  18. Gurgyl

    @sly–how about Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck, or Karl Rowe/Ann coulter, or Trump/Palin??????? GOP is gone to dogs for another fifty years or so–what do you say just saying?

    January 21, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  19. Yakobi

    As if the democrats are any better!

    January 21, 2014 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. Greybeard

    Another one bites the dust.

    January 21, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "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.

    Setting aside how infantile that little rant was, you do realize that Obama and Holder let the deadlines blow by for prosecuting Dubya and Cheney, don't you? Of course you don't...you're just trying to get a jump on Breitbart and WND on this one.

    January 21, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  22. Double b

    Hey Mikey...a Federal Grand Jury delivered the indictments nitwit...not Eric Holder. Know how our system works? Probably never bothered to learn huh? DUH

    January 21, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. Knucklehead

    When this happens I swear I will never vote for another (insert Party affiliation here) and then I turn around and look at the (insert Party affiliation here).

    January 21, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  24. Sheila

    So, we cover up for Democrats, but indict Republicans, right? Hypocrites!!

    January 21, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  25. Silence DoGood

    @Eddie Vanmeer
    Sheila asks
    So how important is this compared to Benghazi???????
    Answer:of the same importance as starting a war under false pretenses, killing 1000's.
    Let's put all this Benghazi stuff away by giving Ms.Clinton 1 / 250th (4/1000) the punishment bush got for killing the first 1000. That would be about ZERO.

    January 21, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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