TOPICS > Politics

McDonnell vows to fight ‘false allegations’

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  January 22, 2014 at 9:10 AM EST

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell delivered his final State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 8 in Richmond, Va. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has in all likelihood run his last political campaign, but he has one heck of a legal fight on his hands.

The once rising star in the Republican Party and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges stemming from their acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from a wealthy campaign donor, Jonnie Williams, the former chief executive of Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company.

McDonnell, who left office earlier this month, declared Tuesday that he had been “falsely and wrongfully accused” and pledged to use “every available resource and avenue” to clear his name.

The Morning Line

“While I deeply regret accepting these legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of these now have been returned or repaid with interest,” McDonnell said during a news conference Tuesday night. “I have apologized for my poor judgement and I have accepted full responsibility for accepting these legal gifts and loans. However I repeat again emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believe was his personal friendship and generosity.”

McDonnell added: “The federal government’s case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory and that is that facilitating an introduction or meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave a gift.”

The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman, Carol Leonnig and and Sari Horwitz outline the federal government’s case against McDonnell and his wife:

Prosecutors contend that the then-first couple arranged access for Williams to top state officials, allowed the historic governor’s mansion to be used for a launch party for a company pill not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and attended Star events designed to boost the company’s prestige, particularly with university researchers with whom the company was trying to build credibility.

They also said the couple took significant steps to hide the relationship. They accuse the former first lady of lying to investigators about how and when her husband had met Williams and of trying to pass off luxury clothes he purchased for her as a loan from his daughter.

The former governor, they said, illegally failed to disclose to banks the loans he had received from Williams as he sought to refinance several home loans.

If convicted of the charges, the couple could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, though they probably would serve far less. They are scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

Tuesday’s indictment marked a stunning turn of events for McDonnell’s political career. The Republican was swept into office in November 2009 with an 18-point victory in a state carried by President Barack Obama a year earlier. A few months later he delivered the Republican response to Mr. Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address, further elevating his national profile. And, as governor of one of the top 2012 electoral prizes, he ultimately made it onto Mitt Romney’s short list for GOP vice presidential running mates.

Politico’s Alexander Burns and John Harris note how the corruption allegations make the task of understanding McDonnell all the more difficult:

When he ran for governor five years ago, the people of Virginia were introduced to Bob McDonnell the zealot: a religious extremist tutored at Pat Robertson’s university, a man Democrats warned would try to keep women in the home and make it easier for criminals to get guns.

The labels didn’t fit. McDonnell won his 2009 governor’s race easily and avoided social issues in office.

Next, Americans met McDonnell, the modern-day Mr. Republican: a beaming politician of total integrity and boundless personal confidence, a man who governed more or less from the center, passing landmark transportation reform and writing the playbook for GOP swing-state victory.

That wasn’t quite right, either. By the end of his four-year term, McDonnell was snarled in a gift-giving investigation that was at least tawdry, if not actually criminal.

Finally, we met McDonnell the dupe: a well-intentioned man, pure of heart but weak in dealing with the people around him, led cluelessly into dangerous legal territory by an acquisitive and ill-tempered wife — Lady Macbeth with an Amex card.

While the gifts scandal has perhaps wrecked McDonnell’s future political ambitions, the episode could prove beneficial to Virginia’s new governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago. McAuliffe said during the campaign that he would ban gifts over $100 to himself and his family, and signed an executive order to that effect on his first day in office.

McAuliffe released a statement Tuesday saying he was “troubled” by the charges and suggested more steps were necessary to lift the ethical cloud hanging over the state.

“This is a sad day for Virginia, but I remain optimistic that we can work together to reform our system in order to prevent episodes like this from occurring ever again,” McAuliffe said.

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TOP TWEETS

Ruth Tam and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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