By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- FERRARIS, ROLEXES AND A SHOPPING SPREE: We’ve learned over the last few months — and particularly yesterday — that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, liked to live large. The couple was indicted in a federal court on corruption charges for allegedly illegally accepting dozens of expensive gifts and donations from a wealthy friend. The indictment alleges that the McDonnells used the governor’s position to try to help Jonnie Williams, the CEO of dietary supplement company Star Scientific, in exchange for the lavish gifts and money. The former governor, who left office just over a week ago, maintains he did nothing illegal. Many of the indictment’s most shocking details focus on the activities of former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, who had Williams take her on a nearly $20,000 shopping spree and even asked him to purchase a Rolex watch for her husband. ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ rounds up the most eye-popping details from the 43-page indictment: http://abcn.ws/1jwjODS
- MCDONNELL PUSHES BACK: Former Gov. McDonnell held a press conference in Richmond last night, saying, in part: “Although the federal investigation of my family has been indescribably agonizing, I believe the facts and the law are on our side, and we will face these false accusations with strength and firm resolve. I have great faith in God, who has blessed me immensely with positions of public trust, a loving family, and devoted friends. I also have great faith in the American justice system. 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.”
- WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: The McDonnells will be in federal court in Richmond, Virginia on Friday. They will have an initial appearance and then an arraignment, ABC’s MIKE LEVINE notes. More on the unfolding scandal from ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: http://abcn.ws/1imLFJ9
- DEMOCRATS BASK IN THE MOMENT: “With the news of a broadening federal investigation into RGA Chair Chris Christie’s abuse of power in New Jersey and today’s filing of charges against former RGA Chair Bob McDonnell, one thing is clear,” Democratic Governors Association Communications Director Danny Kanner said in a statement, “the myth of Republican governors as the nation’s great ‘reformers’ is officially dead.”
ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: The fall from grace for Bob McDonnell has already been astonishing, but the gripping details spelled out in the 43-page federal indictment indicate just how stinging the corruption allegations really are for the former Virginia governor and his wife, Maureen. She laid out in extraordinarily blunt terms the family was out of money, writing in one email: “Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!!” But if the McDonnells were broke then, imagine their financial condition now, with a sweeping public corruption case against them. It’s a bigger scandal than any other in recent memory for a governor and his wife.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Three national Republican stars were born in the year after President Obama’s first inauguration, the leading edge of the tea party wave that would come a bit later. Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell took governors’ mansions away from Democrats in 2009, in New Jersey and Virginia, and Scott Brown would need the first few weeks of 2010 to complete the sweep by capturing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts. Brown, of course, is shopping for a job. McDonnell is now far more concerned with avoiding prison time than seeking another office. And Christie has lost at least the first chunk of what should have been his national moment to a swirl of investigations. Their stories are unique, but serve as useful reminders that developing a national resume and reputation takes more than a single victory, regardless of how big the moment feels. And for Republicans hoping and trusting that another midterm election will be decided based on opposition to the Obama agenda, it’s a reminder that moments pass, candidates are flawed, and hubris lurks in pols of all stripes.
TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE
OBAMA MEETS WITH ELECTION LAW ODD COUPLE. After a snow filled day yesterday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration at the White House where the odd couple of election law, Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, are presenting their findings for streamlining elections, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY notes. It comes nearly one year after President Obama appointed his counsel, Bauer, and Mitt Romney’s lawyer, Ginsberg, to lead a commission to study how ballots can be cast and counted more efficiently. It stems from the long lines at polling places in 2012, where some people waited for hours. Don’t look for any major reforms when they appear at the White House today, but rather a modest set of customer-service friendly recommendations to make it easier to vote and how to keep lines shorter. The only thing voting and theme parks have in common is, in fact, waiting in line. The two lawyers were joined on the commission by several private-sector experts in that area, including a vice president of operations at Disney.
CHRIS CHRISTIE’S SECOND TERM KICKOFF BATTERED BY SNOW AND SCANDAL. Chris Christie, the governor who emerged from Superstorm Sandy a year ago as a defiant hero in the face of natural disaster, was sworn into his second term yesterday rocked by two storms of a different kind: snow and scandal. With a winter tempest brewing outside, the normally bombastic Christie acknowledged the empty seats in the auditorium of the Trenton War Memorial with an air of humility, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP, JOSH MARGOLIN and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE report. “So to the folks who could not quite make it down to the New Jersey Turnpike to be with us this morning, I understand,” he said. “To the hearty souls who are here, you have my thanks.” During his first inauguration, Christie was in all his glory. He made a show of bipartisanship by calling the Democratic legislative leaders up for an unprecedented handshake to mark a new era of cooperation. And the day ended with a jam-packed party at Newark’s Prudential Center. Christie himself took the microphone and sang Bruce Springsteen songs deep into the night. Four years later, riding high on the good feelings generated from his Sandy response, Christie cruised to a landslide re-election in November. Yesterday, he was supposed to have spent the day basking in his biggest election victory yet. But the weather has returned with a vengeance, this time the storm served to underscore the challenges Christie faces in his next four years as governor. http://abcn.ws/1aoezG8
NOTED: OLYMPIAN CARL LEWIS SAYS CHRISTIE TRIED TO ‘INTIMIDATE’ HIM. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis said Gov. Chris Christie canceled plans to appoint him to be New Jersey’s first physical fitness ambassador when Lewis launched a state Senate bid against a friend of the governor’s, ABC’s JIM AVILA and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE report. In an interview with ABC News, Lewis said the governor called him directly to talk him out of running, and said the position as athletic ambassador wouldn’t exist if Lewis ran against Republican state Sen. Dawn Addiego. Lewis said Christie told him in the phone call that he would “fight” him “pretty hard” if he did run, but Lewis said that was nothing compared to being an Olympian. “I put USA against my chest and ran against the Russians. I can handle the governor,” Lewis said. “To me it was like sports. This is gonna be a contact sport, but I can handle it.” http://abcn.ws/1bgWR1T
ANALYSIS: WHAT BRIDGEGATE COST CHRISTIE IN 2016 RACE. Gov. Chris Christie entered the year with a range of advantages in the emerging 2016 presidential race that combined to make him the early front-runner: a sweeping re-election win behind him, a national image as a no-nonsense problem-solver only growing, and a new platform for building a GOP donor network far beyond his native New Jersey. Just three weeks into 201, all of that is gone, notes ABC’s RICK KLEIN. With it has gone virtually all of the head start he enjoyed in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. His weekend fundraising swing through Florida tells a slice of the story. Organized through the Republican Governors Association — which Christie now leads — it was supposed to mark his emergence on the national fundraising stage. Big-dollar donors who signed up for the events had assumed that they’d get the hard sell on a Christie presidential bid now, with the implication that it’s better to get on a fast-moving train early, according to Republican officials in touch with the donors. Christie, though, could make no such sell. In answering questions about 2016, he assured them that he would weather the current criticism and cooperate with any and all investigations, and he said to check back with him about a presidential run in a year’s time. There’s nothing wrong with that answer. But it’s also the same kind of answer that most other Republicans with national ambitions are forced to give. Therein lies the cost to Christie in the stories emerging when they have. Christie’s head start is now lost in a fog of investigations and careful answers that figure to consume at least the first half of this year. http://abcn.ws/1ms430g
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
KATY PERRY WANTS TO ASK OBAMA ABOUT SPACE ALIENS. Singer Katy Perry wants to talk to President Obama about one thing, and it’s not health care, immigration or even world peace. It’s aliens, according to ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ. “I see everything through a spiritual lens,” Perry said in an interview with GQ magazine. “I believe in a lot of astrology. I believe in aliens.” “I look up into the stars and I imagine: How self-important are we to think that we are the only life-form?” she said. “I mean, if my relationship with Obama gets any better, I’m going to ask him that question. It just hasn’t been appropriate yet.” And the two might have a lot to talk about. In 2011, the White House said there is “no evidence that any life exists outside our planet” after thousands of people signed a petition asking for the government to reveal its search for extraterrestrials.
@amieparnes: John Podesta, “valuable towards keeping the base activated and keeping the party feeling good about the White House.” http://bit.ly/1msbBA9
@ajjaffe: Americans United launches somewhat unorthodox Tea Party scorecard that ties vulnerable Republicans to the Tea Party: http://bit.ly/1aJTY9T
@jimgeraghty: Even if you know a candidate or rising lawmaker… you never really know how power will change them. http://natl.re/1dvioDP
@DanH_TIME: it’s National Compliment Day. you look fantastic. pass it on