Column: The Sad Saga of the McDonnells

Column: The Sad Saga of the McDonnells

Please tell me that I won’t have to see any more photos of the grim, or confidently smiling, faces of Bob McDonnell, Maureen, and their phalanx of lawyers either walking into or from the courtroom daily.

When I talked with candidate (for Governor) Bob McDonnell about five years ago, it never occurred to me that his political career would end this way. He impressed me as one of the smoothest, smartest politicians I had met. At the time we talked on Reston Community TV, he was trying to convince me and his Reston audience that he was not the rock-ribbed conservative he had in fact been for many years, but was a caring, compassionate man wanting good things for all Virginians —not for himself, you understand. He was pretty convincing.

He struck me as a career politician, probably driven more by raw ambition than genuine commitment to a set of harsh conservative principles. I did not see the greed and sense of entitlement that would drive him and the former cheerleader to use his position to enrich themselves and move up to a lifestyle of luxury.

It is hard to tell from media coverage alone what the judge and jury will decide. That is a matter of complex laws at issue and what the members of the jury believe after hearing a ton of evidence coming from Mr. Williams, one McDonnell, 60-some other witnesses and a bunch of lawyers. What is clear to me is that Bob McDonnell betrayed the public trust in a big way—as he himself acknowledged in a belated apology to the people of Virginia. He and his wife not only accepted, but actively grasped for big cash payments and endless luxury gifts for themselves, while using the prestige of the Governor’s office to promote the interests of Mr. Williams and Star Scientific. They took such actions following receipt of his gifts. The Governor also lied on public disclosure submissions and loan applications. While he may not be found guilty on all 14 charges, he is certainly guilty of some of them and unquestionably guilty of massive violation of his oath of office. He is also guilty of throwing his wife of 38 years under the bus to save his own skin.

What about Maureen McD? She’s clearly a climber who saw money and luxury as entitlements for his hard work and her own to help him get elected. She seems to have been a disgrace as first lady, ethically and otherwise. But, she was neither elected nor paid by the people of Virginia. Nor had she sworn an oath on the Bible like Governor Sleaze. And, she has been publicly trashed, seriously damaged by her husband who himself made such a mockery of the public trust.

Yes, both of them are guilty in several ways. There is also guilt, it seems to me, to be shared by the Virginia legislature—the Delegates and Senators who have forged a set of laws so weak as to actually encourage foul behavior by folks like Bob and Maureen. You see, the legislators also tend to see themselves as entitled to gifts. In general, they do not believe as Governor Terry McAuliffe says he does, that they should not receive any gifts beyond a ceremonial key or cap perhaps for their service. No wonderful trips or Redskins luxury suites, or anything else.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see some outcomes here that could broadly be seen as just and perhaps encourage less corruption of the public interest? How about these? For ex-Governor Bob, 1 to 2 years in prison, disbarment and a second career with Fox News; and, for Maureen McDonnell, 1 full year of community service. For all future elected officials, let’s hope Gov. McAuliffe follows through on his ethics reform and embarrasses the General Assembly into passing it!