After he and his wife were indicted on fourteen felony counts Tuesday, former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said that he was being charged based on a “misguided legal theory” that would implicate President Barack Obama and nearly every other elected official were it applied as the law of the land.
Appearing with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law to address the media hours after the indictment, McDonnell, who is the first Virginia governor to face criminal charges and will be arraigned in Richmond Friday, said he was “falsely accused,” that his public service has been “wrongly attacked,” and that he would use all resources available to him to fight what he said was an “unjust” federal overreach. According to the Justice Department, if convicted on all the counts, both McDonnells would face maximum prison sentences of 80 years and fines of over $1.25 million.
McDonnell said he “deeply regrets” taking gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams and noted that he “returned and repaid with interest” the lavish gifts and loans, apologized for his poor judgment, and said that he has accepted “full responsibility.”
McDonnell then said the United States Supreme Court has already rejected this radical idea that “facilitating an introduction or a meeting, appearing at a reception, or expressing support for a Virginia business is a federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift.”
“If it were applied as the law of the land, then nearly every elected official, from President Obama on down, would have to be charged for providing tangible benefit to donors,” McDonnell said. “My administration provided Mr. Williams the same routine courtesies and access to state government that I and every other governor before me afforded to thousands of individuals, companies, charities, and other organizations whether they were donors or not.”
McDonnell said he “did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal friendship and his generosity.” McDonnell said he never promised anything to Williams, and Williams’s company “never received any government benefit” such as a contract, loan, regulation, contract assignment, or “any other official state benefit.” He said he did not influence anyone to give Williams or his company a state benefit or hide his friendship with Williams.
McDonnell’s lawyers made a similar argument in a motion filed before McDonnell’s press conference.
“Politics is replete with examples of major benefactors receiving more substantial government benefits than anything suggested here,” McDonnell’s lawyers wrote in a motion filed Tuesday. “The President routinely participates in corporate events which lend credibility to his major benefactors, invites benefactors to events at the White House, allows his photo to be taken with benefactors, and includes benefactors in policy discussions with senior administration officials. Likewise, Governor McDonnell’s predecessor, Governor Kaine, took thousands of dollars in gifts during his time in office, while often taking actions to help those benefactors.”