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. SmilingBluuEyes

    These charges will stick.....The federal gov't does not get involved in the prosecution of a case unless it is a sure thing. He admitted taking gifts, he claims ignorance of the law but, Ladies and Gentleman, do not forget that this man served as our Attorney General before he became Governor!! He knew what he was doing, thought he would not get caught....there are more charges pending for the weddings of his daughters as well. This guy is in deep doodoo, he knows it, his attorney knows it and Mommy Dearest is now going down with the ship!

    January 24, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  2. Hogan's Goat

    Come on, he did it and he knows he did. Taking the money's barely-legal, but using the office to shill for your buddy's products is never going to be legal. This may be a fine show of confidence for his voters, but it's like Christie: his GOP friends can preach about how he is being persecuted, but they can't stop the D.A. from prosecuting him under the law. And you know, that law applies to me and you, so why shouldn't it apply to a rich Republican as well?

    January 24, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  3. Sniffit

    "That is a clear indicator that the Feds have trumped up the charges for political purposes."

    Care to expound on your "reasoning"?

    January 24, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  4. Rudy NYC

    Dutch wrote:

    "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.
    Actually, the picture is no smoking gun. It's not proof of quid pro quo. A conviction must connect the gifts to the launch party. They would need an email that said if you give me this, then I will give you that, or vice versa. I would suspect they would not have filed charges if they didn't have anything to paint the picture of a quid pro quo.

    January 24, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  5. Cynthia W

    The only comment/question that i have is can i get some money love too? I read and hear about everything except emergency unemployment benefits, does anybody out there care that we are losing everything that we WORKED HARD FOR! WHEN! WHEN! For crying OUTLOUD!

    January 24, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  6. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Poor Mrs. McDonnell. Trying to live the life of Ann Romney has got her up doodoo's creek without a paddle.

    January 24, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  7. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    My husband would never let another man send me on a shopping spree and I would never accept lavish gifts from another man, friend or not. Everything has a trade off. I think there is more going on here other than gifts and ethics is a big question on both their parts.

    January 24, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  8. GI Joe

    I don't know who "Source" is, but CNN uses him/her a lot and I'd love to know. Or does it mean "this is what we think"?

    January 24, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. vbscript2

    What a ridiculous article title. Not pleading guilty to something you didn't do in exchange for them dropping similarly-bogus charges against someone else isn't throwing them under the bus. Attempting to use the threat of charges against someone's wife in order to coerce a guilty plea is rather despicable, but that makes sense given the current Justice Department.

    January 24, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. Tim

    I do not know if the charges will stick or not, though I do believe they are guilty. But they also would not be the first politicians to get away with something, so I won't hold my breath for a conviction. That said something strikes me about this. They could both end up with a maximum of 30 years in prison for this. I believe that this is one of the problems with our society. We have other crimes that are far more heinous in my opinion that carry a much lighter maximum sentence. I am not saying that we should lessen the sentence for this crime, but perhaps we should consider increasing the sentence for other crimes. I also would be in favor of higher mandatory minimum sentences.

    January 24, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. kevin

    I would like to see the death penalty for political corruption. Then maybe we could get some good government.

    January 24, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  12. ghostwriter

    Let's be real here for a sec.....McDonald was 100% correct. They all do it.

    January 24, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  13. sunshine77

    The ex-governor probably thinks he still has a bright political future ahead of him.

    January 24, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Cynthia W

    The only comment/question that i have is can i get some money love too? I read and hear about everything except emergency unemployment benefits, does anybody out there care that we are losing everything that we WORKED HARD FOR! WHEN! WHEN! For crying OUTLOUD!
    Unfortunately, the right wing does not believe that you work as hard as the makers. In fact, the right does not believe that you have ever work at all, nor plan to ever work in your life. The seriously believe that, despite the fact that the only way to have colleted UI benefits is have worked an actual job for a significant period of time.

    January 24, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  15. smith

    Alot poltical people(Bob Mac-corrupt) and groups(Battleground Texas liberals-making fun of people in wheelchairs) doing stupid things these days.

    January 24, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  16. Thomas

    Even Whitey Bulger tried to make a deal to save his girlfriend from doing time.

    January 24, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  17. Not gonna happen

    He's in the Fed's sights now. Once that happens, life gets miserable. There is solid evidence that he DID perform services for the gifts. Even so, in Federal courts, circumstantial evidence is admissible, if it shows a pattern of behavior that indicates a crime has been committed. I think it interesting that this guy portrayed himself as an icon of morality until someone blew his cover. What really surprises me is that these politicians do this stuff, thinking they'll never get caught, even though they are doing these things as public figures. For every politician, no matter what party, there are those that are digging into their activities and their pasts, trying to find something to topple them. To take what amounts to bribes, and then act like you didn't know it was wrong, is either the ultimate in arrogance or the ultimate in stupidity. In either case, this guy is going down hard and will probably have Bernie Madoff as a new roommate.

    January 24, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  18. tom l

    "Unfortunately, the right wing does not believe that you work as hard as the makers. In fact, the right does not believe that you have ever work at all, nor plan to ever work in your life"

    Huh? I don't get it. I don't think you understand conservatives whatsoever with a comment like that. The one thing that I would think you would take away from the right wing is that they feel that you should work for what you get and nothing in life should be just handed to you. Can you give me more insight and instances of why you say that?

    January 24, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. Thomas

    Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell , meet Mr. and Mrs. Jackson.

    Corruption knows no color , race , religion, or political party .

    We need longer sentences for gold collar political crime .

    January 24, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  20. just saying

    ohhhh.... the old admit your guilt or we will persecute, i mean prosecute, your family as well. isn't this the way they operate in north korea and communist china? yeah, the obama adminstration looks more and more like them with every passing day.

    January 24, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  21. Tim

    Technically speaking the ex-governor probably does have a political future. As I recall there was a representative of New York, Charlie Rangel who was found guilty of violating House ethics rules, whatever that really means because I don't think they actually have ethics, and even censured by the House. He is still representing the state of New York. While perhaps he what he did was not as bad as the McDonnells, it still illustrates how we live in a culture that if we agree with a politicians ideology, we don't seem to really care what he does.

    January 24, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  22. VJ

    Jesse Jackson Jr = Bob McDonnell.

    January 24, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. luke,az

    So much for Republican family values. This guy throws his wife and family under the bus.

    January 24, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  24. JeffreyRO5

    I'm confused. If McDonnell didn't do anything wrong, why did he give the gifts back, or pay for them? His argument appears to be that these were gifts from a friend, with no strings attached. If that's true, why on earth return them or reimburse the giver for them? Makes no sense to me.

    January 24, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  25. sly

    The Confederate Party just keep sinking deeper and deeper into the sewer.

    Mobster Christie is running New Jersey. Some Canadian lil' Hitler tried to shut down America last year.

    We all know the GOP are losers – soundly rejected by thinking Americans, but wow ... it looks like Palin-McCain is the ticket for 2016, and somehow I don't think they'll get more than 15% of the national vote.

    January 24, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
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