There is a soap opera playing out right now and estimated to last for another month. It is the bribery trial of former Republican Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen. The two are right out of central casting. He wears his Christian faith on the outside by profession, although not apparently by deed. The governor was a litmus test conservative who once made it to the top tier of potential vice-presidential candidates. How hard the mighty fall.
Jonnie Williams, the star witness, met the governor during the 2009 campaign. Williams offered McDonnell use of his private jet, which was the beginning of their relationship. Williams is fabulously wealthy, and was trying to promote a non-prescription dietary supplement that had the potential to make him and his company enormous profits. Having the governor speak well of the product and suggest to key figures at the University of Virginia medical school, and other state agencies dealing with health issues, that they should look favorably on the supplement, was a part of Williams’ strategy. For this, Williams gave the governor and his wife things like a Rolex watch, use of his Ferrari, expensive golf outings, a shopping spree for Maureen at upscale Manhattan stores, paying a chunk for their daughter’s wedding---and much, much more. In other words, the governor is charged with accepting multiples of six figures worth of largess in return for official acts on behalf of Williams.
McDonnell has a strong pedigree that includes having served as an army officer, lawyer, state attorney general, and then governor. Amazingly, he didn’t seem to have any common sense to ask himself key questions about his “friend” Jonnie Williams: Why does he want to be my friend? What does he want from me? Does he expect me to use my influence in ways that would be wrong?
I knew some New York mobsters that had a strict policy of not dealing with anyone that they didn’t know since kindergarten. Sad to say, but McDonnell missed learning some real basic street knowledge that could have served him and the people of Virginia very well. Perhaps McDonnell and his wife were just two low life greedy persons, pretenders who wore high dollar suits and mink coats. The two were way overextended on their credit cards and leveraged to the hilt. Yet this governor had no problem talking about fiscal responsibility and propagating it as one of the key issues of the Republican Party.
The people of Virginia are fortunate to have a U.S. Attorney’s Office aggressive enough to pursue this case. Supreme Court rulings have made proving bribery and related cases much more difficult. This case isn’t over yet, and I am not going to predict the outcome. Juries can do anything. For sure, whether McDonnell and the First Lady are convicted, it has been an eye-opener to the sleaze that emanated from the Governor’s Mansion. Interesting too is that McDonnell was offered a face-saving plea deal that did not include a charge related to corruption. The government also agreed not to prosecute his wife. Instead, he rejected the offer, and his trial strategy is to suggest that his marriage was in trouble, that his wife conspired with Williams to do all the dastardly things without his knowledge. McDonnell is the new poster child for a standup guy while Maureen gets tossed over the cliff.
We are seeing a different variety of moral and ethical lapses at the same level in our own state. The previous governor took advantage of retroactive tax breaks that he promoted and that involved personal land deals. He also owned land next to a huge undeveloped forest and made governmental decisions concerning it that inured to his financial benefit. And more. None of it stopped Sonny Perdue from being reelected, and Nathan Deal is still the odds on favorite despite all the revelations of serious ethical lapses and what the polls currently show.
Corruption destroys faith in government. It tears away at our social contract of having a legal system that works for everyone equally. When that happens people resort to extra-judicial means to get justice, to level the playing field, and that leads to anarchy and violence. I hope that Governor McDonnell and his wife have the benefit of setting an example of what happens when you cross lines that are so obvious, that from prison they will write blogs to educate those whose moral and ethical compasses need degaussing.