January 24th, 2014
09:40 AM ET
9 years ago

Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, wife plead not guilty to gift charges

Updated 2:39 p.m. ET, 1/23/2014

Richmond, Virginia (CNN) - Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell greeted his pastor, acknowledged the media, and proclaimed himself in good health on Friday in court where he and his wife pleaded not guilty to federal charges they accepted illegal gifts.

Considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012 and a potential candidate for the White House itself down the road, a one-time rising star of the Republican Party has experienced a slow-motion fall from prominence over a scandal involving fancy clothes, golf clubs and a guy named Jonnie.

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McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, appeared in federal court in Richmond to answer a grand jury indictment charging them with 14 counts of fraud by a public official, false statements, and obstruction.

That translates into allegations they accepted a lot of nice stuff from a business executive in return for using the power of the governor's office to benefit his products - a quid pro quo they deny completely.

So convinced is McDonnell, 59, the Justice Department has gone too far and can't win at trial, he apparently rejected a plea deal that would have spared his wife from prosecution, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

The source characterized McDonnell's decision as "throwing his wife under the bus."

The federal probe involved the relationship between the state's first family and Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of a troubled nutritional supplement company, Star Scientific.

Authorities allege that Williams gave gifts and loans to the McDonnell family, and that they promoted his company.

The gifts have been valued at a minimum of $140,000 in total and included designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf clubs, iPhones and a painting, according to a list of items in the indictment.

McDonnell has admitted using poor judgment but nothing worse than that.

"I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship," he said following the indictment.

At the courthouse on Friday, McDonnell looked directly at reporters and greeted them: "Glad you came."

Later Judge David Novak said "the gamesmanship with the media ends now."

Novak said he wants the trial to take place in the courtroom, "not from some anonymous leaker."

The family's priest, Rev. Wayne Ball, met and prayed with family members in the hallway outside the courtroom. He greeted McDonnell and prayed with his wife.

Asked by Novak if he's being treated by a physician, McDonnell said he's taking blood pressure medicine.
"I'm fine, your honor," he added.

McDonnell left office this month following the end of his single term. His next big appointment is scheduled for July when the trial is due to start.

Filed under: Bob McDonnell • Virginia
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Lynda/Minnesota

    A True Conservative
    Didn't read the article, did you Lynda? If you had read it you would understand why he rejected a plea deal. How "democrat" of you

    Give it up with your rubber and glue nonsense. I read the article, specifically where it is stated:

    "The McDonnell team asserted that they did not believe the Justice Department could get a conviction against McDonnell at trial based on the evidence they had, the source added."

    This guy doesn't want us to think he did anything wrong ... and is willing to take his wife down with him if it is proved to be otherwise.

    This has nothing to do with "democrats".

    January 24, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    stone cold truth wrote:

    How is he a victim, he admitted accepting the gifts, he knows the rules, yet here he is, Mr. Innocence, what compelled a person to want a man like this in charge?
    Actually, the gifts themselves are perfectly legal under what passes for campaign laws in Virgina. The crime would be in accepting them for quid pro quo. Since a significant amount of money is involved, that makes it a federal crime.

    January 24, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  3. lolita from rhode island

    LOL you don't know weather to cry or laugh about this. Is this really necessary? If the "magic" between each other dies, then it's time to move on.

    January 24, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  4. me

    I'd love to point to him being a Republican since I lean left... but you know what? As much as I hate to admit it, there are good Republicans... even good Conservatives (it pains me to say this but being a rational person, I must admit it)... there are scumbags on the left and right... this guy, unless he is sure he's innocent and is able to prove it easily, has just made one of the most cowardly moves ever... a weak man too scared to protect the woman he supposedly loves...

    January 24, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. rob

    Hey CNN, who is this source you quote as "throwing his wife under the bus." ? Typical CNN story, emphasizing the quote to an un-named "source" without giving the very important detail that the "Plea deal" was for the Gov to plead guilty to a Bank Fraud charge which is a felony and one in which their is absolutely no evidence or substance. The Gov and his wife will be dragged through the mud by the liberal media and surely there will be some revelations about their personal lives and the marriage but in the end he will be found NOT guilty.

    I am looking forward to the new broadcast line up at CNN. The documentaries about Justin Beiber, the glowing documentaries about the Clinton and Obama families etc. etc. etc.

    January 24, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  6. Rudy NYC

    -A True Conservative

    Didn't read the article, did you Lynda? If you had read it you would understand why he rejected a plea deal. How "democrat" of you.
    See? See? It's the Republican War on Women, I tell you. That's why he's taking her down with him. It's a War on Women!

    January 24, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. TONE

    This is a corrupt Gov. I did not eat the blue berry pie, but you can see undigested blue berry pie at the corner of his mouth.

    January 24, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  8. stone cold truth

    I can't count the number of times I've been arrested for doing nothing wrong: I have two felonies, and guess what, I was guilty as charged . I got all the justice I could afford . He's the victim, remember, legal gifts, which he payed back. Why regret accepting legal stuff?

    January 24, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  9. Rooster

    Good for him for rejecting extortion in the form of a plea offer: "plead to our weak charges and don't make us try to prove them or we will exercise our unfettered discretion and drag your wife through the mud, too." These cases are hard to prove unless there is a smoking gun showing actual quid-quo-pro and his rejection of the offer tells me there is no smoking gun.

    January 24, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  10. Sniffit

    Next stop, Divorceville. Gotta wonder how rocky their road is getting at this point. She's clearly a grasper and wannabe wealthy socialite. He's clearly a Republican, which pretty much says enough. You'd think it would be a match made in heaven, and perhaps it was, but "who gets to be under the bus" is a lot different than "who gets to hold the remote control."

    January 24, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  11. chrissy

    Much as i dont like this guy i dont think he was intending to throw his wife "under the bus". In all likelihood his lawyers are advising him against taking a plea deal. Because if he does they cant get paid mega bucks for excessive billing hours!

    January 24, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  12. stone cold truth

    Rudy catch old Mitch petitioning the scotus to eliminate all campaign finance rules? If you can't follow them, repeal them. These are the same Republicans who accuse the Democrats of changing the constitution, oh the hypocracy.

    January 24, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  13. Doug

    I consider such a plea deal immoral and unethical on the part of the prosecutor. This sounds like a very weak case to me. More disturbing storyline is that anyone who seems to cross swords with our dictator Obama gets indicted.

    January 24, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  14. Sniffit

    "The documentaries about Justin Beiber"



    January 24, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  15. Jeff

    Bob will probably not be allowed to practice law in Virginia with a felony conviction. That is why he rejected the plea.
    Remember, he graduated from Pat Robertson's law school (Regent).

    January 24, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  16. stone cold truth

    How long before Congress sells their vote on eBay?

    January 24, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  17. oldsoldierboy

    The McDonnell's feel they should be spared because they brought back everything after the robbery. Don't work that way bro.

    January 24, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  18. busy playing

    whether the prosecution has merit or not, always take the bullet for the wife or gf and kids, wasting time and money especially if it is truly a setup charge is silly, you might as well join don quixote on his quest

    January 24, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  19. Kelcy

    Would it be too much to ask CNN (and the other media outlets) to actually put a synopsis of what the gift rules are or at the very least a connection to the text of said rules (they must be someplace).

    January 24, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  20. Joshu Constantine

    Explain how the wife can be charged? She is not in a political position, or a position of power. At any rate i think the case against them is weak. Yes he admitted to accepting gifts but then returned. However there is no proof he gave this business man anything in return.

    January 24, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  21. ritmocojo

    GOtPers would even throw their own moms under the bus. What's the big deal with them throwing the wife under it?

    January 24, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. Rick McDaniel

    That is a clear indicator that the Feds have trumped up the charges for political purposes. Another sign of the corruption of the Obama regime.

    January 24, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  23. borisgv

    The guy didn't accept the plea deal because it would be admitting something which he says he didn't do. I don't blame him.

    Anyone who supports either the Repbulican or Democratic party ragging on the other party for corruption is as hypocritical as they come. Both parties have demonstrated an equal propensity for corruption.

    January 24, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    "However there is no proof he gave this business man anything in return."
    A launch party at the governor's mansion with a picture of the governor posing with a bottle of Mr. Williams' drug.

    January 24, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Rudy NYC

    busy playing

    whether the prosecution has merit or not, always take the bullet for the wife or gf and kids, wasting time and money especially if it is truly a setup charge is silly, you might as well join don quixote on his quest
    It would not surprise me, not one bit, if she acted like an obedient and loving, little conservative wifey and threw herself under the bus for him.

    January 24, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
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