Let’s review former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s eye-poppingly sordid conduct while holding Virginia’s highest office. Specifically, let’s run down the list of loans and gifts he and his family accepted from businessman Jonnie R. Williams.
The list, much of which the family initially avoided disclosing, is worth considering in light of Monday’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned McDonnell’s 11 bribery convictions and officially removed the stamp “crook” from the disgraced politician.
McDonnell accepted at least $70,000 in two different undocumented loans from Williams to bail out a failing real estate partnership the governor owned with his sister. At the time, Williams was seeking McDonnell’s help in promoting his Virginia-based company, Star Scientific.
The McDonnells personally borrowed $50,000 from Williams; the governor’s wife, Maureen, used that to pay down credit card balances and buy stock in Star Scientific.
She wheedled Williams into buying a $6,500 Rolex that she gave to the governor as a Christmas gift.
Williams took Maureen on a $20,000 New York shopping spree at Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton and Bergdorf Goodman.
Williams paid $15,000 for the catering at one McDonnell daughter’s wedding and gave another daughter $10,000 as a wedding gift.
The McDonnells (and some others) flew on a weekend vacation with Williams to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they shared a $5,000 bottle of cognac during a beachside clambake — and poured the unfinished portion into a fire. Naturally, Williams picked up the tab.
The McDonnell family stayed in Williams’ multi-million-dollar vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake for a week, during which Williams rented them a boat for $2,300.
McDonnell and his sons charged more than $6,000 in golf outings to Williams at the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club in Goochland County. Williams didn’t attend most of those outings.
The McDonnell daughters accepted commercial airline tickets from Williams so they could attend a bachelorette party in Savannah, Georgia.
More tawdry stuff came out in trial testimony. At one point, Williams testified that Maureen unsuccessfully schemed to get him to buy a car for her daughter and to sell a Land Rover to her son at a deep discount.
The list above is pretty much the gist. It totals about $175,000 worth of goodies, freebies and secret loans.
The McDonnells also took certain actions to promote Williams’ company. They hosted a luncheon in the governor’s mansion to launch Anatabloc, the over-the-counter dietary supplement produced by Star Scientific.
McDonnell arranged some meetings for Williams with state officials. As first lady of Virginia, Maureen McDonnell pitched Anatabloc at out-of-state meetings for Williams.
According the U.S. Supreme Court, none of the above constitutes “honest services fraud” because McDonnell didn’t do enough for Williams in return for all that Williams did for the governor and his family.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously reversed former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 11 corruption convictions.
OK, fine. Maybe McDonnell didn’t break the letter of the law. Maybe he should get off on such a technicality. But that doesn’t mean that what he did was ethical, upright or reputable.
The court itself called his actions “distasteful,” and here are a bunch more adjectives that apply — sleazy, shady, slimy, seedy, grubby and greedy.
Moreover, McDonnell probably knew it might look that way. He didn’t disclose much of Williams’ largesse, including the Rolex.
Maureen McDonnell timed some stock trades in a way that meant they could avoid listing on state disclosure forms that the couple purchased Star Scientific stock. After Williams was questioned by the FBI, Maureen suddenly returned some of the items he had purchased for her.
When all the dirty laundry came out, McDonnell publicly apologized for the “embarrassment” he had caused the state. And he paid back the loans and the value of the gifts. Why would he do that, if he believed he had done nothing wrong?
U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said he was pleased with Monday’s ruling, but urged Cong…
We have laws on the books against government employees (but not necessarily elected officials) accepting illegal gratuities.
Plenty of federal workers have run afoul of those, and lost their jobs and been convicted for accepting as little as gift cards to spas and free moving services.
Those illegal gratuities statues should be extended to elected officials — either by Congress or Virginia’s General Assembly.
Either could craft legislation that allows elected officials to accept transportation or meals or a T-shirt — but not Rolexes, designer gowns, snifters of cognac from $5,000 bottles or $15,000 worth of catering for a daughter’s wedding reception.
Otherwise, politicians are going to do it again. And then they’ll hold their heads high and point to Bob McDonnell and this Supreme Court decision and claim they “did nothing illegal.”
Does anyone want to see that again?
We can do better.