Former Va. governor McDonnell declares his innocence

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell stressed his innocence Tuesday night and called the charges against him “false allegations.”

McDonnell (R) was responding to the 14-count federal indictment issued earlier in the day against him and his wife, Maureen, in connection with their involvement with Star Scientific, a company that sells dietary supplements. Authorities allege that McDonnell and his wife received gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., then the company’s chief executive.

“The federal government’s case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory: that facilitating an introduction or meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave a gift,” McDonnell said at a news conference in the lobby of his attorney’s office in Richmond. He was accompanied by his wife, a daughter and a son-in-law.

The McDonnells were charged with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office and conspiring to do the same. They were also charged with making false statements to a federal credit union. Robert McDonnell was also charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with obstructing the investigation. They are scheduled to appear in federal court in Richmond on Friday morning.

“I repeat again, emphatically, that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams,” Robert McDonnell said. Speaking for several minutes, he outlined his personal history, and citing several achievements from his gubernatorial tenure, he said he has given his “heart and soul” to the people of Virginia.

The investigation “has been incredibly agonizing,” he said, but he promised to fight against the charges.

One of the defense attorneys for McDonnell wrote in court papers Tuesday that prosecutors’ case against the former Virginia governor also cited a “rickety legal foundation” and relies far too heavily on the word of someone with a motive to lie.

In a strident motion asking to see the instructions that prosecutors delivered to grand jurors, defense attorneys asserted that McDonnell is “an innocent man” who never promised or provided any benefits to Williams.

John L. Brownlee, who is representing McDonnell with Henry W. Asbill, wrote that the prosecutors’ legal theory of the case would criminalize even routine political dealings and that their evidence against McDonnell, 59, hinges on “immunized testimony purchased with under-the-table promises to a key witness who would otherwise face criminal liability and massive financial penalties.”

“The prosecution is baseless,” Brownlee wrote. “If the government’s theory were applied neutrally, virtually every elected official in the country would be facing federal indictment.”

The motion — filed soon after federal prosecutors charged the McDonnells with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from Williams — is likely a preview of the no-holds-barred legal fight that is to come.

Authorities have alleged that for nearly two years, the McDonnells hit up Williams again and again, lodging near-constant requests for large loans, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides. In exchange, authorities have alleged, 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.

McDonnell’s defense seems to be that Williams is an unreliable witness who was granted immunity, both formal and informal, for his testimony, and that the governor’s interaction with the executive was a routine political dealing. Prosecutors contend the quid-pro-quo relationship went far beyond routine.

Brownlee also wrote in his motion that the investigation into Robert McDonnell might have influenced the recent gubernatorial election, saying a series of leaks about the case “effectively sidelined” him in the campaign as Democrat Terry McAuliffe claimed victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.

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