The Washington Post

McDonnell: ‘I repeat again, emphatically, that I did nothing illegal’

Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) says he and his wife "did not violate the law" after being indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with accepting bribes. (Reuters)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell reacted Tuesday night to charges that he and his wife had improperly accepted gifts from a Virginia businessman, saying they were “false allegations.”

“I repeat again, emphatically, that I did nothing illegal” for Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the now-former chief executive of a Virginia nutritional supplement company, McDonnell said at a news conference in the lobby of his attorney’s office in Richmond. He was accompanied by his wife, Maureen, a daughter and a son-in-law.

He also argued that the case against him was an example of overreach by the federal government, based on a flawed legal argument.

“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,” said McDonnell (R).

He went on to say that the U.S. Supreme Court had “rejected this radical idea and for good reason because 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 with providing tangible benefits to donors.”

He said he had provided 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.”

The former governor’s legal team responded quickly to the long-expected charges, insisting that prosecutors were using novel theories and stretching the facts to make their case. The legal team demanded that prosecutors turn over tape recordings of their instructions in asking a grand jury to indict the couple.

Among the legal team’s statements filed Tuesday in court:

●On the former governor’s innocence:

“Bob McDonnell is an innocent man. He never entered into an illegal agreement with Mr. Jonnie Williams or Star Scientific, nor did he ever promise or provide them any official benefits.”

●On the alleged benefits the governor provided:

“All that Governor McDonnell is alleged to have done for Star or Mr. Williams was facilitate two meetings with Virginia Health and Human Resources officials (who gave Star nothing but a little of their time), make a brief appearance at a Star event in Richmond, attend a private luncheon hosted by his wife (and paid for by his PAC) at the Governor’s mansion at which Star announced the award of research grants to two Virginia universities, and attend a large healthcare reception at the Mansion to which his wife had invited a few Star representatives (invitations indistinguishable from those extended to thousands of other people over the Governor’s time in office).”

●On the prosecutors’ legal theory:

“To bring today’s indictment, the federal government has concocted a never-before-used legal theory manufactured for the sole purpose of prosecuting Governor McDonnell and his wife. This new theory contravenes settled judicial precedent and disregards long-standing Virginia law and practice, seeking to punish the McDonnells for conduct that was legal before today. . . . But innocence is not something that prosecutors should invent novel legal theories to overcome.”

●On the failure to show the governor’s acts were improper:

“The centuries-old crime of bribery requires — as it always has — proof of a quid pro quo in the form of illicit payments made to secure official government benefits. . . . Not everything a public official does to benefit a donor is an ‘official act,’ however, or every photo op would be a crime.”

●Comparing the Justice Department to Emperor Caligula:

“It has been a long time since the Roman Emperor Caligula imprisoned people for violating laws written in tiny lettering on a pillar too high to see. The government’s decision to deploy an untested theory in order to indict a high-profile Republican Governor is not much better."

●On leaks in the press and impact on the election:

“Throughout the course of the investigation, each of its most salacious and damaging details has been reported in both the Richmond and Washington press due to repeated leaks by unnamed sources, many of whom the press has specifically identified as ‘law enforcement.’ The election occurred in the shadow of these leaks, with the Democratic candidate eking out a narrow victory over the Republican, while Governor McDonnell was effectively sidelined by the steady stream of negative leaks of confidential information.”

●On the government’s cooperating witness Jonnie Williams:

The “flawed indictment” is “built largely from immunized testimony purchased with under-the-table promises to a key witness who would otherwise face criminal liability and massive financial penalties. The federal government’s decision to use these deceitful tactics in order to prosecute a popular and successful Republican Governor immediately upon his leaving office is disgraceful, violates basic principles of justice, and is contemptuous of the citizens of Virginia who elected him.”

Rachel Weiner and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.

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