#FreeBobMcDonnell: 10 years is 10 years too many

bob-mcdonnellThe U.S. probation office has recommended that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell spend at least 10 years in prison for his convictions on a series of corruption charges. Seriously.

And while the judge in the case is not bound to follow the recommendation, it is likely that he will, according to several judicial experts.

Seriously.

For convictions based on violations of law written so broadly as to allow a proverbial Mack truck through it. There’s no doubt that McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, had at the least an unusually cozy relationship with Jonnie Williams, a Richmond businessman who was angling for favors for his hokum pharmaceuticals company and used loans and lavish gifts to get his products in front of state agencies and public colleges and universities.

It’s also clear that the McDonnells should have taken the plea bargain offered to them before trial that would have made most of what is about to happen go away.

One other thing that is clear: conceding that Williams wanted access, and that he was using his wealth to gain access, and using his knowledge as a friend of the McDonnells of their precarious personal financial situation, it would seem that the businessman is the instigator in this case, and should be the one facing years of hard time, except that he was granted immunity for his willingness to testify against the former First Couple.

That’s all in the rear view. The jury decided that what transpired between the McDonnells and Williams was criminal. Now a judge weighs in with sanctions.

The sanction phase of a criminal trial should take into account the harms done as a primary point of focus. Williams didn’t end up getting anything more than a couple of meetings that according to testimony were perfunctory in nature and led to absolutely nothing. Those involved on the public side of the meetings with Williams were not pressured in any way to feel the need to do business with Williams. Basically, he used his loans and gifts to get a pitch meeting, failed, and life went on as it would have otherwise.

For this, a former governor, once a rising star in the Republican Party, on the short list of possible vice-presidential nominees two years ago, a former military man and prosecutor, faces a decade in prison.

Partisans have made the case that McDonnell is facing prison time for doing what politicians Democrat and Republican do on a daily basis in terms of trading political favors for cash. The distinction that they miss in making that case is that cash donated to campaigns in return for the political favors that come in the form of access does not directly benefit a politico’s bottom line, though that distinction is very, very narrow.

Otherwise, yeah, sure, McDonnell is indeed facing 10 years and a month in prison for doing something that everybody but Mr. Smith does in Washington, in Richmond, in state houses across the country.

The idea, in that light, that McDonnell would be little more than a political prisoner is not all that far-fetched.

– Column by Chris Graham



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