UPDATE: Former Governor Bob McDonnell and Wife Charged in Gift Case

By: Rachel Ryan & Evanne Armour Email
By: Rachel Ryan & Evanne Armour Email
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January 21, 2014

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have been indicted on federal corruption charges.

The indictment, filed on Tuesday, shows the first family trying to maintain appearances while struggling financially.

The McDonnells are accused of taking $135,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, then CEO of Star Scientific, to help promote the dietary supplement company.

The former governor and first lady are facing 14 felony counts. Charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction and making false statements.

The indictment shows several staffers shared their concerns about the McDonnells' relationship with Williams, and warned them it was inappropriate.

"This is old-fashioned corruption. This is a charge alleging that the governor basically sold his office," said attorney and legal analyst Scott Goodman. "It's a very, very stinging indictment against someone."

The court documents reveal that in an email defending herself, Maureen McDonnell wrote the following to a staffer:

"We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is
killing us!"

Bob McDonnell released this statement in response to the charges:

"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."

During a press conference Tuesday evening, the former governor said he was "falsely and wrongfully accused." He did not take questions from reporters.

In July, McDonnell apologized and said he had returned more than $120,000 in loans and other gifts from Williams.

Some believe it's too little too late.

"It's been quite a fall from grace for him," said Geoffrey Skelley of the UVa. Center for Politics.

The indictments come a little more than a week after McDonnell turned over power to democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics tweeted:

The scandal, tainting what was otherwise a fairly positive run by the republican.

"It's kind of a sad end of affairs for a governor who was relatively popular and seen as having been pretty competent. [He] knew what he was doing, and then the gift scandal came up and then it very much ruined his public image," said Skelley.

But former governor and current senator Mark Warner isn't so quick to judge his friend of more than 14 years.

"These are serious allegations, but I think in our country you have to presume innocence until proven otherwise," said Sen. Warner.

Warner says the federal corruption charges are an opportunity to change what some consider to be blurred lines in Virginia politics.

"We do need to ensure there's more transparency and a clearer set of rules for all Virginia elected officials," he said. "My hope is that Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly can find common ground on that and get that resolved so there's not any kind of gray areas going forward."

Delegate David Toscano echoed Warner's words, releasing a statement Tuesday that read in part:

"These unfortunate events reinforce how critically important it is for the General Assembly to pass a bipartisan ethics reform bill this year -- a bill that has real teeth in it."

Gov. McAuliffe also noted the need for changes to the system, releasing a statement that, in part, said:

"This is a sad day for Virginia, but I remain optimistic that we can work together to reform our system in order to prevent episodes like this from occurring ever again."

The McDonnells are scheduled to make their first court appearance in Richmond on Friday, Jan. 24th.

If they are found guilty of all 14 charges, they could potentially spend decades behind bars and face fines of more than $1 million.

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