Bob McDonnell, the former Republican governor of Virginia, once was touted as a rising star with national potential within his party.
Today, he and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on charges of illegally accepting gifts and loans from a political donor. While McDonnell had repaid the businessman-benefactor and claimed he’d done nothing illegal — retiring in a state where governors only get one term — the controversy bled into last year’s governor’s race. Virginia elected Democrat Terry McAuliffe governor over then-Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, who’d also accepted gifts, in the first Democratic sweep of the state’s top three offices in almost a decade.
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia today detailed how McDonnell and his wife accepted more than $135,000 in gifts and loans, trips and other items from Jonnie Williams Sr., former CEO of Star Scientific. The 14-count indictment charges the couple with a wide array of corruption, including trips aboard a jet owned by Star Scientific’s CEO and private dinners at the governor’s mansion in Richmond.
McDonnell last year repaid more than $120,000 to Williams and publicly apologized for embarrassing the state. (Cuccinelli said he donated the value of the gifts he received from Star Scientific’s chief, $18,000, to charity.)
“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,” McDonnell said in a statement issued today. “However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.”
Prosecutors say the gift-giving started before McDonnell took office in 2010. In December, 2009, Williams offered to buy McDonnell’s wife an Oscar de la Renta dress to wear to her husband’s inauguration. She rejected that offer after a staffer voiced concern. She wrote in an e-mail at the time that the McDonnell’s were “broke and have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already.”
The state’s House Republican leadership issued a statement of sympathy for McDonnell today: “He has served his country and Commonwealth for nearly his entire adult life. We know that he has always strived to serve with the utmost conviction and integrity. Admittedly, he has made mistakes in judgment. He has apologized for those actions, which we know all Virginians deeply appreciate.”
All but the federal prosecutors in the Eastern District.
— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) January 21, 2014