CREDIT: Virginia Governor’s Office/Michaele White
Ten days after he left office, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife Maureen were indicted on 14 felony charges on Tuesday. The indictments centered around tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts received by the couple from a wealthy tobacco executive.
In what Republican state legislator Bob Marshall called the “type of activity” that “undermines public confidence,” McDonnell and his family allegedly accepted more than $135,000 in gifts and/or loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific Inc. The McDonnells then helped promote the scientifically-unproven dietary supplements line made by the controversial tobacco company-turned-supplements manufacturer. While Virginia’s lax gifts law allows elected officials to accept unlimited gifts — even from lobbyists and those with business before the state — McDonnell apparently failed to fully disclose what he and his wife received.
The gifts included a silver Rolex watch, golf clubs, Louis Vitton shoes, and $15,000 to help pay for the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding. According to the indictment, the former governor and his wife conspired to commit wire fraud to accept bribes, knowingly made false statements on loan applications to avoid reporting the Williams loans, and obstructed justice.
In July, then-Gov. McDonnell apologized for the “embarrassment” he and his family caused to Virginia and announced that he had repaid the roughly $120,000 in loans from Williams — loans he had previously insisted were not improper. He later promised to return all the gifts the family had received.
A planned December federal indictment was reportedly put on hold until after McDonnell left office.
In his farewell State of the Commonwealth address earlier this month, McDonnell apologized again for the impression his actions gave, but insisted that his actions “were legal, and as several reviews have shown, no person or company received any special benefits during our Administration.”
Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had to recuse himself from a state investigation into the McDonnells because he too had received thousands of dollars worth of gifts from Williams. That investigation is still ongoing.
Ironically, McDonnell ran for governor on a platform of “trust and accountability.” In a statement Tuesday, McDonnell continued to deny any violation of the law and vowed to ” 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.”
While this marks the first time the former Virginia Attorney General has been on the receiving end of a criminal indictment, this is not McDonnell’s first time under ethical fire: in 2005, he exploited a loophole to evade disclosure requirements, hiding corporate contributors to his AG campaign.