No matter what the jury ruling is in the sorry tale of former Governor McDonnell, there can be at least one consolation: Virginia is not like Illinois where former governors somewhat routinely go prison. Incarceration would be a first for us and even if he and his redoubtable wife are found not guilty, the consequences of their actions will remain life-altering, if not life-shattering.
There is always the possibility that political motives were behind the investigation and subsequent trial but with the amount of smoke generated there certainly is a suspicion of fire. Regardless of the outcome the cost in time, money, emotional damage, and the loss of credibility will be beyond measure.
Early in his term, McDonnell was being hailed as a bright rising star in Republican firmament. My, how things have changed in the last two years! Now he may well rue the day he asked then Lt. Governor Bolling to step aside so he could run for the state’s highest office. At that time McDonnell was by all accounts an effective legislator, a loyal family man, and worthy of admiration. Aside from the recent unpleasantness, he left office with a credible record as governor.
From the endless accounts of what really happened one can come to many conclusions. The facts have, one would hope, become clear and undisputed in the trail. That really depends on whether the defense or the prosecution is talking; black can be made to appear white or at least gray by either side. The jury surely has its work cut out for them and we hope that they can come to a decision where justice reigns.
There are some facts that probably all would agree are troubling; whether or not they constitute fraud or criminality is another matter. Without getting into details about which we know only what the press has reported, it does seem obvious that common sense took a leave of absence early on in the McDonnell’s term.
It’s easy to understand how the complexities of the state government would leave virtually no time for the common matters of daily living. Communication within the Governor’s mansion seems to have suffered, not only in the First Family, but in the administration of the staff.
The subsequent disclosures of the marital rift set the stage for even more difficulties. That these had to be aired in the court of public opinion is unfortunate and would not, one might think, have any bearing on the machinations of Jonnie Williams and his miracle medication, Anatabloc.
Then there was the matter of all the gifts, trips, vacation excursions, Rolex watches, wedding receptions, driving a borrowed Ferrari, private jet plane rides, and who knows what else. If one delves in to the private life of many big league politicians, such revelations would not be uncommon.
The real sticking point revolves around whether Mr. Williams received special treatment in the tax case pending against him or in promoting his wonder drug. If so, because of his largesse to the governor, then the corruption charge may well have merit. Let’s hope the jury has the facts right and doesn’t get carried away by the rhetoric of either set of attorneys.
Several things are undoubtedly true. Mr. Williams got a sweet deal in being granted total immunity to secure his testimony. If he is legally excused from his alleged tax difficulties as part of that arrangement, then shame on the prosecutors.
The marriage of the McDonnells may well have suffered irreparable damage. The political future of the once bright star governor seems doomed because of the stupidity exhibited by his family’s failure to recognize the potential conflict in his dealings with Williams.
On that sad note, let’s not forget that many a politician has risen, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of scandal and gone on to great achievements. We’ll not deal with Richard Nixon; he eventually got his just due. But think of Ted Kennedy; he overcame terrible moral setbacks, yet will be remembered as one the most powerful politicians of the 20th century.
Finally, let’s really hope the ethics rules for our legislators can be strengthened so we don’t ever go through this again. The General Assembly has done little to reassure us on that point. A guilty verdict might get their attention.