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Fomer Virginia governor denies wrongdoing following indictment

Steve Helber / AP

Bob McDonnell makes a statement as his wife, Maureen, listens during a news conference in Richmond on Tuesday.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday that he and his wife have been "falsely and wrongfully accused" and that federal prosecutors have "stretched the law to its breaking point" after being indicted on criminal corruption charges for allegedly accepting gifts illegally. 

McDonnell addressed media hours after a federal grand jury delivered a 14-count indictment against the governor and his wife, Maureen. The charges stem from state and federal inquiries into the couple's relationship with a prominent donor, Jonnie R. Williams, the head of a dietary supplements manufacturer. Williams showered the McDonnells and their family with gifts and favorable loans, but the former governor insisted all have been repaid and none of the gifts were meant as a way to curry favor.

Though McDonnell expressed regret for accepting the gifts, he said he did nothing illegal for Williams in return and that legal precedent has rejected the premise of the case against him and his wife. 

"No other elected official has been successfully prosecuted for such conduct," McDonnell said.  "Yet federal officials in Washington, in their zeal for finding a basis for charging Maureen and me, have decided to stretch the law to its breaking point in this case."

"If it were applied as the law of the land, then nearly every political official, from President Obama on down, would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors," he added.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that, if convicted, the governor and his wife could face over $1 million in fines and potential time in prison.

According to the indictment, Maureen McDonnell asked Williams to take her on a shopping trip to New York in April 2011, where he spent $19,288 buying her dresses at Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton, and Bergdorf Goodman.  

A month later, she told him that she and the governor were heavily in debt and asked for a $50,000 loan.  She also asked him for $15,000 to help pay for the catering at the wedding of the first couple's daughter.  He gave her the money in May of 2011.

Williams also paid for golf outings for McDonnell and his family, let them stay at a vacation home Williams owned, bought a Rolex watch for the governor, and gave a business partly owned by the governor a $50,000 loan.

The charges represent a stunning fall from grace for McDonnell, the Republican governor from a swing state that doubles as a political seat of power. Mitt Romney considered the governor as a potential running mate in 2012, before the 2013 trial of a former executive chef for McDonnell on unrelated charges unearthed details about the governor's relationship with Williams.

The scandal weighed on the 2013 campaign to replace McDonnell, since Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli had also accepted gifts from Williams and faced the risk of being tied to McDonnell.

The governor has consistently emphasized that he did nothing wrong, and provided Williams with no favors or benefits in exchange for the gifts. Elected officials in Virginia are permitted to accept private gifts so long as they are fully disclosed, though family members of officials aren't required to disclose gifts.

 NBC's Pete Williams contributed to this report.

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