Bob McDonnell trial: Yeah, he’s done
It’s a stretch to imagine the jury actually returning guilty verdicts against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on corruption charges involving loans and gifts that the McDonnells solicited from a Virginia businessman who has admitted that he saw his efforts to aid the First Couple as a way to boost his business fortunes.
Even with Jonnie Williams’ concessions to that point, all the defense has to do is sow enough reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors about what was in their heads at the time, and as we’ve seen so far in the trial, yeah, wow. Maureen McDonnell is a “nutjob,” according to one former staffer, and then there was her own attorney telling jurors that she had a “crush” on Williams.
And we have learned that the marriage of the McDonnells, one-time poster family for the Republican Party’s family-values wing, was in hopeless disrepair, that being offered for jurors as evidence that there was no way the McDonnells were colluding to use public office to their personal benefit, because they were barely even talking to each other.
What’s most remarkable about all of this is that Bob McDonnell decided to go ahead with a trial that would expose all of this for public scrutiny and not cop a plea that, OK, sure, would have led to a conviction on a lesser charge, but from a political standpoint, is avoiding a conviction on a lesser charge worth your name and reputation?
Because that’s where we are at this point. The defense is relying on selling the McDonnells not only as a dysfunctional couple in their time in the Governor’s Mansion, but as one that entered the Mansion basically broke as a joke, seeking loans from Williams and other family members to keep afloat upon losses from a family real-estate venture that was hemorrhaging money.
That Maureen McDonnell, then, at a time when the family was struggling to make ends meet, solicited expensive gifts and trips and other largesse from Williams goes beyond the pale; yeah, she’s not a public official, and so isn’t in violation of state law, but it’s just as clear that she was using her place as the unelected First Lady to leverage that out of Williams.
Could McDonnell have come back politically from a plea deal on a minor charge that could have put this away quietly? Likely not, but the door could have been open, especially if Maureen would have stepped up with him as he did so, falling on her own sword as her husband rather gallantly took the ultimate fall with the conviction going on his record.
At the least, in so doing, Bob McDonnell would have preserved his place on the lucrative post-elected-politics speaking circuit, where his boyish charm and social-conservative bona fides would have earned him far more money than his wife could ever dream of soliciting from business benefactors for as long as he would have wanted.
I see the McDonnells being exonerated, ultimately, in the court of law on these charges, because as much evidence as we’ve already seen in the trial, there is a wide berth for jurors to find reasonable doubt that what we can all see was a series of dumb actions on the part of the First Couple had any nexus to also being criminal actions.
As for the court of public opinion, Bob McDonnell is now a family values social conservative in the past tense. He no longer has the moral authority even among the most rabid social conservative Republicans in the base to advise others on how to shape public policy to their benefit. Groups that would have been lining up to put tens of thousands of dollars into his bank account to hear him pontificate on the issues of the day on his way to what was once an inevitable U.S. Senate challenge to Democrat Tim Kaine can now confidently put their eggs in the Ken Cuccinelli basket without risking offending the once-formidable McDonnell base within the party.
To borrow from the old cliché, McDonnell thus wins the battle in avoiding a conviction, but in the end loses the war in what is unfolding in front of us as a painful fall from grace.
– Column by Chris Graham