Updated: Jan. 21, 2014, 7:09 p.m. E.T.
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were charged on Tuesday with illegally accepting gifts — including luxury vacations, private jets and large loans — from a wealthy businessman seeking special treatment from the government.
Federal prosecutors say McDonnell, a Republican, and his wife Maureen repeatedly received gifts and loans totaling more than $160,000 from dietary-supplement executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. In exchange, the McDonnells allegedly bolstered Williams’ struggling company with the prestige of the governor’s office. The indictment on Tuesday charges them with 14 counts, including wire fraud and conspiracy.
In a statement on Tuesday, McDonnell, who has previously apologized for the gifts scandal but said he did nothing illegal, maintained his innocence.
“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. “However, 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.”
“I come before you this evening as someone who’s been falsely and wrongly accused,”“I come before you this evening as someone who’s been falsely and wrongly accused,” he said later in a press conference on Tuesday night. “All of these (gifts) have now been returned or repaid with interest … I repeat again emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams for what I believed was his personal friendship and generosity.”
McDonnell left office earlier this year after the single term in office Virginia governors are allowed. His election in 2009 heralded the first Republican backlash to President Barack Obama, and McDonnell was frequently considered a possible vice-presidential candidate, and perhaps even a future White House hopeful himself.
Newly elected governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in a statement that he was “troubled” by the charges.
“As this case progresses, it is my sincerest hope that justice will be served and that Virginians get the answers to which they are entitled,” he said. “As governor, I will remain focused on leading this commonwealth in a way that restores Virginians’ trust in government and honors their expectation of transparency and accountability.”
This post has been updated to include Bob McDonnell’s comments in a Tuesday-night press conference.