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. NameCharlotte

    Greedy people

    January 21, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  2. Maimonida

    Only bad thing that they are charged so late. It should of happen months ago.

    January 21, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  3. NamePetrus

    Corrupticians, that's what they do.

    January 21, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Well, that CBN law degree that instills "Republicon Moral Values" may come in handy.

    January 21, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  5. The REAL Truth...

    @Sheila – So, we cover up for Democrats, but indict Republicans, right? Hypocrites!!
    Too bad that 20 tons of sand you've been buried for some time now isn't sound proof.

    January 21, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  6. Teamski

    Man, this makes me sick to my stomach. When it comes to big money, enough isn't enough. It makes me ill just to think about how much of this corruption is going on in our government. Our forefathers would be disappointed to say the least. Our society rewards greed from the gangs of the inner-city to the top tier of wealth. Cheat to get ahead. Ugh!

    January 21, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  7. Robert Bell

    Anyone actually read the indictment? In exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cash payments, as well as shopping trips to luxury clothing stores, free vacations, free jet airplane rides, a rented boat, a weekend ferrari, (the list goes on and on), the governor agreed to influence State Universities to conduct "independent" research into what is basically a health-food additive derived from tobacco.

    Strange and stranger. The wife gets 60 grand and goes out and buys stock in the company (insider trading, too!).

    The governor and his wife were flat broke, having paid too much for a vacation home and run up personal credit card debts (so much for "fiscal responsibility")

    The whole thing reads like a bad joke. I mean, these people seriously didn't think they'd get away with it, did they?

    January 21, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. DC Johnny

    No proof has come forth to the public with regards to this case yet. And yet the liberals salivate. Actually, more than salivate. The liberals bite. And bite and shred and tear.

    Meanwhile, every scandal with real evidence and motive is swept under the rug when it comes to your Democrat friends in power. Ever notice that?

    I want this investigation. If there was wrong-doing, let it be found and let the governor be punished for it. But I'd also like a real investigation into the other scandals as well, with independent investigators assigned.

    January 21, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  9. Matthew

    Yet another in a long string of American politicians who, instead of doing the people's business, just give the people the business once elected.

    January 21, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  10. obotma

    when are the american people going to come up with a new system of government that does not include politicians!

    January 21, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  11. Patricia

    Perhaps if Gov. ultrasound were more focused on his job and his ethics, he would not be having all these troubles.

    January 21, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  12. Scott

    The Republicans seem to be imploding for 2016. Perhaps someone like Nikki Haley, Brian Sandoval, or Haley Barbour will run and save the Republican Party. Sadly, there are only a few Republicans in executive leadership positions who are not scoundrels. Hillary Clinton is not going to have to do much to win when people like McConnell and Christie show that they are completely unethical and implode over their own shortcomings. Many Republicans in Congress are also unworthy. The Democrats have some problems as well, but they are minor by comparison. Hopefully, the 2016 election will have some candidates who can restore a sense of dignity to the process and have some ideas to keep the country headed in the right direction. I think Obama has done a fair job and deserves much credit, but I don't think he can take us to the promised land.

    January 21, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  13. The Grand Commonwealth

    I live in Virgina and there is more to this than what is being reported. McDonald also had the governor mansons chef
    order food for the governor's private parties at tax payers cost. The chef also did the private grocery shopping for the governor. The chef was afriad to say anything for fear of being fired. McDonald's wife was also involved in taking all kinds of gifts and 'loans.'

    January 21, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  14. Steve from NH

    @sheila – No, Bush was given information that there were NO WMDs, from the people on the ground who were looking for them. And Saddam DID give access, in fact the US used to send the weapons inspectors to whichever palace they thought Saddam was in so they could test the value of their information. If they got in right away he was there, if not he was somewhere else.
    The Bush WH chose to ignore the most recent information (no WMDS) and instead put their faith in old news from a crook named Achmed Chalabi and opinions from that raw data expert Dick Cheney, because it fit what they wanted to believe, and gave them the justification they needed to invade Iraq and give access to it's oil to American Oil companies (coincidentally all buddies of the Pres. and VP).
    Then they proceeded to completely screw up the occupation, believing they only needed to kill 52 people and Iraq would magically become a democracy, not having the mental capacity nor the inclination to accept that it could turn into anything else.
    And we will pay for it for a long, long time.

    January 21, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  15. Sniffit

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

    Ha...forgot the "je"...darn you copy & paste function!!!!

    January 21, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  16. MTATL67

    Anyone who is surprised raise your hands.....No one...hhhmm

    January 21, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  17. Bubba Ray

    This is all very simple.
    Republicans will believe he did nothing wrong.
    Democrats will want to see him in jail.
    If he were a Democrat the above would be reversed.
    Isn't it wonderful when life is simple.

    January 21, 2014 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  18. sly

    Wow – the Confederate party candidates are being indicted by the day.

    Palin-McCain in 2016! Has a nice ring to it. Restore credibility to the GOP.

    January 21, 2014 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  19. David

    good...I hope they go through with it and don't let him get away with it like NC did with John Edwards.

    January 21, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  20. airjackie

    Bob could have avoid this by telling the truth as the evidence was their for all to see. But he decided he could bet this and if FBI Director Mueller were still in change this would never have to come light. But we will be seeing another indicted Governor soon as the FBI raided NJ Sandy Funding on holiday Monday when employees did not have a chance to destroy any evidence. Most would rather we leave these criminal acts alone and just continue bashing Obama and talk about the fake scandals of Benghazi, IRS and the President was not born in America.

    January 21, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  21. BH

    DC Johnny, That's the republicans fault or maybe democrats don't openly take bribes while preaching fiscal responsibility.

    January 21, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  22. Jessica McGwin

    The promising, NEXT

    January 21, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  23. magicpanties

    haha, guv ultrasound gets his just desserts

    January 21, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  24. Rick McDaniel

    No other department in the federal government, has become so politicized as the Dept. of Justice. Corruption in the DOJ is a known fact.

    January 21, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  25. Eardley Ham Woodbury, MN

    Greed, arrogance–stock trade for many politicians. As things go though, neither of them will spend any significant time behind bars. After all, they are white and connected.

    January 21, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
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