Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges.
The McDonnells were charged with 14 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges.
McDonnell left office earlier this month after completing his term in office. Virginia’s Constitution limits governors to a single four-year term.
The Associated Press reports:
“A federal investigation overshadowed the final months in office for this once-rising star of the Republican Party, with authorities looking into gifts he and his family received from a political donor.
“In July, McDonnell apologized and said he had returned more than $120,000 in loans and other gifts from Johnnie Williams, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Star Scientific.”
Update at 7:15 p.m. ET: McDonnell: ‘I Did Nothing Illegal’
The former governor went before the cameras Tuesday evening to deliver a statement in which he said he and his wife are innocent of the allegations against them.
“I have apologized for my poor judgment, and I accept full responsibility for accepting these legal gifts and loans,” McDonnell said. “However, I repeat again, emphatically, that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believe was his personal friendship and his generosity.”
He also said the loans had been “repaid with interest” and the gifts had been returned.
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The Washington Post reports that authorities allege the McDonnells received gifts from Williams “again and again, lodging near constant requests for money, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides.
“In exchange, authorities alleged that the McDonnells worked in concert to lend the prestige of the governorship to Williams’s struggling company, a small former cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.”
In a statement cited by the Post, McDonnell denied he had broken the law.
“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,” he said. “However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.”
NPR’s Liz Halloran reported last year that before the scandal that engulfed his final months in office, McDonnell was seen as a hot Republican prospect, “ranked among the nation’s most respected state leaders, and was touted as prime vice presidential material.”
As a result of the indictment, McDonnell becomes the first Virginia governor to face criminal prosecution for actions allegedly taken in office. Unlike Illinois, for instance, which has witnessed several of its sitting or former governors being sent to prison for official corruption convictions, Virginia officials have long marketed the state as having effective and clean government. The indictment puts a blemish on that record.
The indictment of McDonnell comes as another rising star in the Republican cadre of governors, New Jersey’s Chris Christie — a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate — has recently seen scandal-related clouds rise over his future.
Christie has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that now former top aides orchestrated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last year with resulting traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., an act of apparent political retaliation. Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the closures, which are being investigated by the New Jersey Legislature, federal investigators and other journalists. And since the revelation of the lane closures, other accusations of political vengeance by Christie cronies have been alleged.
Both McDonnell and Christie were on 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s vice presidential short list. When Romney announced his vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, he did so in Norfolk, Va., with McDonnell introducing the GOP presidential nominee.
Until the gift scandal exploded into the headlines, McDonnell’s tenure was widely considered successful. He had high positive approval ratings for much of his term. The state’s jobless rate fell and its fiscal situation improved. He also signed into law major bipartisan transportation legislation, a signal accomplishment in a state known for world-class traffic jams in its northern suburbs that border the nation’s capital.
Also, unlike other Republican governors such as Christie or Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, McDonnell had a nonconfrontational style that made him fewer enemies in the state.
Unfortunately for McDonnell, those accomplishments are now overshadowed by the federal charges against him and his wife.