Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has made a personal donation of $10,000 to former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell's legal defense fund, a Romney aide confirmed Tuesday.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted in January on federal charges of bribery and fraud involving their relationship with a prominent Virginia businessman and campaign donor. The McDonnells are scheduled to face trial in July.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2012, McDonnell endorsed Romney at a critical time — in the run-up to the South Carolina primary — and became one of the nominee's most visible campaign surrogates. McDonnell and Romney campaigned together frequently across the swing state of Virginia and in other states.
The Romney aide requested anonymity to discuss the donation.
Ron Kaufman, a longtime friend and adviser to Romney, said in an interview Tuesday that Romney made the donation to show his support for an embattled ally.
“Governor McDonnell became a true and trusted friend and ally through the good times and the bad times in the last campaign," Kaufman said. "He did a great job running the RGA, he did a great job running Virginia and Mitt has a very special place in his heart for Governor McDonnell. He wanted to help him at a time when he needed help, just as Governor McDonnell would do for Mitt if he needed help.”
McDonnell and his supporters have been actively raising money for the Restoration Fund, to pay his legal fees. The fund raised about $11,400 last year, according to a filing with the Internal Revenue Service, before the couple was charged. That is a tiny fraction of what the McDonnells will need to pay their attorneys.
Several major Romney campaign donors who are close to McDonnell have been helping raise money for the fund, including Bobbie Kilberg, president and chief executive of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, and Fred Malek, a veteran GOP insider and the RGA's national finance chairman.
Asked whether McDonnell personally asked Romney for his support, Kaufman said he did not, although he added that the two speak from time to time.
"People around [McDonnell] brought it to Mitt's attention," Kaufman said. But, he added, Romney "did it on his own volition."
The McDonnells are accused of soliciting and receiving more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for taking official steps to lend state government help and prestige to their patron’s company and its new product.
— Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.