Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife were charged on Tuesday in federal court with illegally accepting large loans, luxury vacations and expensive gifts from a businessman and prominent political donor.
A federal grand jury indicted the couple on 14 counts related to their decision to receive thousands of gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., an executive at dietary supplement company Star Scientific.
Prosecutors accuse the McDonnells of receiving items from Williams, who in return got special treatment from the governor’s office to help his company.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, McDonnell said he “deeply” regrets accepting gifts and loans from Williams, which were repaid with interest. The former governor, however, denied doing anything illegal for Williams.
“I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised — and Mr. Williams and his company never received — any government benefit of any kind from me or my administration. We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government,” McDonnell said in the statement.
Virginia has had notoriously lax financial disclosure laws for politicians in the past — the state is one of just nine that doesn’t have an ethics commission to investigate malfeasance and disclosure complaints, though new Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is pushing for one to be created.
McDonnell’s indictment could have ramifications for other Virginia Republicans as well. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie, the GOP front-runner to face Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), previously served as McDonnell’s campaign chairman and as a senior adviser during his transition into office in 2009. Many members of his campaign team also worked for McDonnell in the past.
“It plays exactly into the ‘fixer’ narrative Democrats are pushing — ‘Republicans aren’t as honest as they sell themselves to be.’ They’re going to try to say Gillespie is cut from the same cloth as Bob McDonnell,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who has worked on a number of Virginia races.
Gillespie expressed sympathy toward McDonnell following the news.
“I was deeply saddened to hear today’s news concerning my friends Bob and Maureen McDonnell,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “Governor McDonnell has been a dedicated public servant, and he and Maureen are in my prayers as they endure a very painful time in their lives.”
National Democrats say they’re already gearing up to tie McDonnell to Gillespie, but one Virginia Democrat offered some kind words for McDonnell following the indictment.
“I like Bob McDonnell,” said Virginia state Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D). “I don’t think he’s a criminal, I really don’t. Hopefully a jury will see it that way.”
Virginia’s former first couple accepted more than $135,000 in direct payments as loans and gifts from Williams.
The gifts included a New York City shopping spree for McDonnell’s wife, a trip to watch a Final Four college basketball game, a Rolex watch that had the governor’s title inscribed into it and a stay at a vacation home, among others.
The indictment says McDonnell and his wife broke federal law by using the governor’s office to help Williams. The executive wanted one of his company’s supplements to be included as medications covered under the state employee health plan.
The couple also lied on loan applications instead of declaring their debts, the indictment says.
The scandal, which first began to unravel last summer, largely ended McDonnell’s promising career in politics.
He was on the shortlist to be former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. His name had also previously been circulated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential race in 2016.
McDonnell had also been named chairman of the Republican Governors Association during his second year in office.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who lost to McAuliffe in the race to succeed McDonnell, also received gifts from Williams. As the scandal unfolded, Cuccinelli reportedly considered ousting McDonnell from the governor’s office over the summer. He said at the time that McDonnell was unfit to govern.
McDonnell’s term as governor ended on Jan. 11. He was elected in 2009, and the commonwealth’s governors are limited to one term.
This story was updated at 8:06 p.m.