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. Greg

    That 's one Gov. down one more to go, here's looking at you Chris Christie!!!!!!!

    January 21, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  2. Marie MD

    Aaawww, the probe governor is being investigated. How does that feel repug?
    What's even funnier is that his money buddy is being taken to court because his product is a joke. Sort of like this fallen red governor.
    I will never understand how he got elected. His political ads were very men rule and work the little women go to grandma's house.

    January 21, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. nate

    Maybe he can share a cell with Democrat Rod Blagovich and Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr.

    January 21, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  4. Sheila

    @Eddie Van Meer – big difference there, big boy! Information given to the president at that time indicated there WERE WMDs but Hussein would not let the inspectors in (of course, while he was moving them to Syria). Benghazi could have been prevented if our State Department had done its job!

    January 21, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  5. Bill

    As a Democrat, all I can tell my fellow party supporters is to not let this go to your head. If you think either side has a monopoly on corruption, you're ignorant. The only thing different in this instance is the guy got caught. I really don't think party affiliation has anything to do with the levels of corruption in government. Both sides are fairly evenly corrupt.

    January 21, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  6. Peace

    By looking at him he doesn't look like those Crooks Giuliani and someone in New Jersey. What a shame!

    January 21, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  7. Popeye

    Sean Hannity: "Another GOP scandal? How can I blame this on Obama by way of Benghazi?"

    January 21, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  8. Bob

    Inspiring 2016 GOP presidential campaign slogans (pending the outcome of multiple state and federal inquiries, court cases):

    Christi: "I am not a bully"

    McDonnell: "I am not a felon"

    Everyone else: "I am not Christi or McDonnell"

    January 21, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. democraze

    Another one bites the dust........and another one gone, and another one gone... another one bites the dust, duh, duh, duh,

    January 21, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  10. Gurgyl

    @tboyd54–I don't give darn hoot to Benghazi nor Livenski(sp?). So shouldn't USA. It is not hurting people, nor treasury–just like GOP cult.

    January 21, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  11. Randy, San Francisco

    Robert McDonnell and Gov Christie can share a cell in a minimum federal prison and console each other.

    January 21, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  12. M.Miller

    Let the games begin!

    January 21, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  13. Fr33th1nk3r

    Move quick, Republicans!!!!
    Better pull out that Benghazi card! Things are looking pretty bleak for 2016 (for the GOP anyways).

    January 21, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. Gary

    I can hear it now. " Welcome to the Republican Presidential Debates. Live from Folsum Prison."

    January 21, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  15. John Taylor

    How to spot an anti-White:
    1) They deny that race exists; "race is just a social construct".

    2) They blame everything on the White race, a race they say "doen't exist".

    3) They wish for GENOCIDE via mass immigration, assimilation and forced integration.

    4) They try to justify GENOCIDE – usually with point number one or two.

    5) They say any White people that object to this shouldn't be allowed to speak because they're "racistsmellynazihaters!!!"

    Anti-racist is a codeword for anti White.

    January 21, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  16. MirrorMirror

    I'm not the least bit surprised. I'm sure this is how ALL Republicans operate.

    January 21, 2014 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  17. laquisha

    Might as well as keep the investigation open cause McAuliffe and the Clintons are waaaaay more corrupt than this issue of "gifts". Before Clinton won the presidency they never owned a home .Now they are worth $100 million..How's that?

    January 21, 2014 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  18. andrew

    It sickens me that so many people in this country are slaves to their party even when their party member is caught. Instead of admitting wrong, cleaning house, and deterring future crimes, they blame the other party. Jesse Jackson Jr was a crook and so is McDonnell. These people think that wealthy benefactors just throw cash at them merely for their friendship. Right.

    January 21, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  19. Tom Hartman

    Christi: "I am not a bully"

    McDonnell: "I am not a felon"

    Everyone else: "I am not Christi or McDonnell"

    Nixon: "I am not a crook!"

    January 21, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  20. MilitaryAF

    Isn't an acronym for corruption=GOP?

    January 21, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  21. Quixote

    Cristy is next.

    January 21, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  22. Yes It's Not

    Charging American politicians has become a lot like "handing out speeding tickets in the Indie 500." It appears that corruption is still the rule, not the exception.

    January 21, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  23. Sniffit

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

    *ahem*...Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich Blagovich....

    Is it making it's way thru your tinfoil hat yet? In fact, watch how differently and more gently CNN covers this bribery and corruption nonsense from a GOPer than the MSM feeding frenzy that was Blago's corruption scandal. Even this article about McDonnell getting indicted by a federal grand jury is muted and softballed.

    January 21, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  24. Chuck Young

    At least that state limits terms to 1. Given more time he probably would have had even more charges.

    January 21, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  25. The REAL Truth...

    @Sheila – So how important is this compared to Benghazi???????
    Depends on whether one wants to focus on the potential for REAL criminal activity having occurred in NJ versus a GOP witch hunt over mishandled news event by the current administration. People died in both..

    January 21, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
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