Politics

Bob McDonnell Rejected Plea a Offer That Would Have Spared His Wife

January 24, 2014

Maureen McDonnell relayed to federal prosecutors last summer that she felt responsible for the relationship with a wealthy businessman who had drawn legal scrutiny to Virginia’s first family, and her attorney asked whether the case could be resolved without charges for her husband.

But prosecutors showed no interest, according to people familiar with the conversation. Instead, months later, authorities proposed that then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plead guilty to one felony fraud charge that had nothing to do with corruption in office and his wife would avoid charges altogether. The governor rejected the offer, the people with knowledge of the conversations said.

On Tuesday, Robert and Maureen McDonnell were jointly charged in a 14-count indictment alleging that they engaged in conspiracy and fraud, trading on his office to provide assistance to the businessman in exchange for more than $165,000 in luxury gifts and loans.

The failed behind-the-scenes plea discussions underscore the former governor’s strong assertion that prosecutors have stretched the law to ensnare a high-level official through the actions of his wife. He has emphatically insisted that he did nothing illegal in his interactions with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and made no agreements to assist his company, Star Scientific Inc.

It also provides a vivid illustration of the extent to which both of the McDonnells believe that it was the former first lady’s poor judgment in establishing a friendship with Williams that has landed the couple in legal peril.

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