A guide to the corruption charges facing the former Virginia governor and his wife.
Dana Liebelson and Tim MurphyJan. 21, 2014 7:03 PM
On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on 14 counts related to gifts the couple accepted from a businessman looking to curry favor with the McDonnell administration. McDonnell, whose one term in office expired in early January, was once considered a possible Republican vice presidential candidate before reports of his dealings with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. cast a shadow over his last year-and-half in office.
In a statement, McDonnell apologized for his actions but maintained that he never did anything illegal: "I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised—and Mr. Williams and his company never received—any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration. 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."
Here's everything you need to know:
Who's Jonnie R. Williams Sr.? Until December, Williams was the CEO of Star Scientific, Inc., a dietary supplements company. The company's main products are Anatabloc—an anti-inflammatory supplement derived from tobacco plants—and smoking-cessation product CigRx. According to the indictment, Williams forged a friendship with the the McDonnells starting in 2009, after he gave Bob McDonnell use of his private jet during his gubernatorial campaign. McDonnell and Williams soon discovered that they both had a lot in common, according to the Associated Press: They both have large families, started their careers in health services, and honeymooned at the same spot in Maine. This isn't the first time Williams has had a run-in with federal investigators: In 1993, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined him $300,000 for peddling false medical claims.
What did Williams get out of this? Authorities say that in exchange for gifts, the McDonnellslegitimized and promoted Star Scientific products. Among the allegations: In February 2011, Bob and Maureen McDonnell praised Star Scientific's products at a dinner the company held in an effort to convince doctors to prescribe CigRx to their patients. In August, 2011, the defendants hosted an event for the launch of Star Scientific's Anatabloc product at the Governor's Mansion; the invitees included some university researchers Star Scientific wanted to perform clinical trials of Anatabloc. In October 2011, Maureen McDonnell attended another Star Scientific dinner to lend her support to Anatabloc, according to the indictment.
Could this have been avoided if the McDonnells had been nicer to their staff? Maybe. Things began to fall apart when the couple's chef, Todd Schneider, was accused of stealing food in 2012. Schneider denied any wrongdoing, instead implicating the McDonnell family themselves as the culprits. Upset about his treatment, he turned over a pile of documents revealing the tip of the iceberg of the family’s financially cozy relationship with Williams.
What will happen to McDonnell if he's found guilty? Per the Richmond Times Dispatch, the charges could put the couple behind bars for decades and carry a fine of more than $1 million. But prominent political couples don't normally receive maximum sentences. Top Virginia politicians in both parties have, at McDonnell’s request, lobbied the Department of Justice to go easy on him.
Is there a silver lining? If recent history is an indication, he'll probably get a reality show. Former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted in 2009 for attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. He was convicted one year later and is currently serving a 14-year sentence—but not before his wife, Patricia, raised funds for his legal fees by starring in the show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, who served six years in prison over federal corruption charges, landed a post-penitentiary gig as the co-star of short-lived A&E series The Governor's Wife.
Come live in the OMEGA HOUSE! One of our roommates left to start a pot dispensary and another is quitting his job and now we might need a housemate.
THE PLACE: $800/mo. plus utilities for one room in a two bedroom row house on Capitol Hill. Short walk to Union Station, Capitol South Metro, Johnny's Half Shell, Charlie Palmer, and Bistro Bis. You'd take the larger upstairs bedroom and share a bathroom with two other roommates. Vintage '70s record collection. Newish big-screen TV in the living room, which doubles as a bedroom. Place is occasionally a little messy but not unkempt. (Semi-kempt?) Peeling paint on the walls adds a rustic touch. Mostly functioning kitchen. Stove has a giant hole in it, on account of the rats. I was told not to talk to you about the rats, but frankly, that's the kind of petty brinkmanship that the American people are sick and tired of. We're in the solutions business. Real solutions that can bring real change and improve the lives of real people. Dick, the other roommate, is pretty good at killing rats.
THE ROOMMATES: Current occupants are three laid-back government workers in our sixties. We hold pretty busy lives and aren't around the house too often. Not looking for a best friend, but someone we can have an occasional bowl of cereal with. (We eat a shit-ton of cereal. Come to think of it, maybe that explains the rats.) We're fairly tolerant people, but it's a small house so we ask that you avoid certain kinds of destructive behavior, such as drug use, smoking, and metal-bristle grill brushes.
North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: "slavery." In a videotaped interview with the North Carolina Tea Party in October, Brannon, a Rand Paul-endorsed doctor who is top contender for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, cited James Madison in making the case for abolishing the Department of Agriculture—and with it, the $76 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Brannon has a real chance of winning: A December poll from Public Policy Polling found the GOP primary field split but showed him leading Hagan, 45-43.
"We're taking our plunder, that's taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away," Brannon said in the interview. "The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it's crazy but it's true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you're at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer."
It's something of a mixed metaphor, because Brannon is suggesting that people on food stamps are lazy, while also conflating them with a system of labor exploitation in which people were literally worked to death. (Also: Madison liked slavery.)
Food stamps aren't the only thing Brannon believes is subjecting Americans to the cruelties of the chattel system. At the RedState Gathering in November, an annual event organized by the influential conservative website, Brannon suggested that bipartisan compromises also "enslave" Americans.
A call to Brannon's campaign was not immediately returned. We'll update this post if he responds.
Political correctness is keeping Hollywood from properly stigmatizing Muslims—so said Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel. He issued this complaint during a 2006 episode of Right Side Radio, a syndicated show McDaniel hosted for three years before being elected to the state Senate in 2007.
"It's funny how the movies have portrayed themselves lately and how the video games have portrayed themselves lately," McDaniel said in the segment. "There's one person that cannot be a villain in Hollywood, ever. One group that cannot be villains. Who is that? [Cohost: The Muslims.] Yeah, isn't that neat? They'll go out of their way to find some Russian white guy that's just nuts, and he's the terrorist, which I've never seen that. But the Muslims, they've just disappeared from Hollywood's radar."
"I think the true enemy is Ron Howard and Andy Griffith," he joked. (The remarks were first reported by a local politics blog, Dark Horse Mississippi.)
McDaniel didn't have it quite right. Islamic extremists played the roles of terrorists in seasons two, four, and six* of the television show 24; the Showtime series Sleeper Cell; and a variety of movies, including Syriana, The Kingdom, Rules of Engagement, The Siege, True Lies, and Zero Dark Thirty. The Muslim-as-villain has been such a long-standing stereotype that a 1998 New York Times story reported on the difficulties Arab American actors faced in obtaining roles beyond that as hijackers.
Other audio clips unearthed by Dark Horse Mississippi feature McDaniel warning about the dangers of the "homosexual agenda" and describing a grand plan by Democrats to make "homosexual marriage and polygamy completely legal in all 50 states." Speaking before the 2006 election, McDaniel rattled off a "parade of horribles" that would come to pass if Democrats ("the party of sex on demand") took control of Congress; these included "new social taxes, new social programs," and "new hate crime laws for homosexuals."
In another episode of his radio show, McDaniel mocked San Francisco lawmakers who had decried an ad campaign depicting a white woman wrestling a black woman, under the slogan "White is coming."
"They're elite," he said of the city's residents, before taking a shot at the city's LGBT community. "Right next to gender misidentification is IQ, I suppose. That's gonna get me in trouble."
Last week, Mother Jonesreported on a promotional clip from Right Side Radio in which McDaniel blamed rising gun violence on hip-hop. As he put it, "It's a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can't stand education."
*Correction: This story originally misidentified the villains in season five of 24.
On Wednesday, at the end of a day dominated by reports that his aides had gleefully shut down a bridge as payback to a political rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a moment to apologize. Sort of. "What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable," Christie said in a statement. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge." The political apology (or non-apology, as the case may be), is an art form. But as with other art forms, its intricacies are often lost on the general public.
Below are excerpts from some of the more infamous apologies made by American politicians and Rob Ford. Can you match the apology to the offender?