Was Bob McDonnell Convicted with Tainted Testimony?

Baron von Munchausen, famous spinner of tall tales

Baron von Munchausen, famous spinner of tall tales

Jonnie Williams’ trial testimony about a critical meeting with the former governor was contradictory, implausible and sometimes incoherent. But the jury bought it anyway.

Peter G.’s skeptical response to the op-ed I co-authored with Paul Goldman and Mark Rozell is exactly what I would have expected, given the fact that we had to boil a complex argument with abundant support documentation down to 750 words. Accordingly, what follows is an expanded version of that column. However, I take the argument further than Goldman and Rozell may be comfortable taking it, so I assume sole responsibility for this piece. — JAB

In closing statements of former Governor Bob McDonnell’s August trial, lead prosecutor Michael Dry made a remarkable statement. McDonnell had flat-out denied key testimony of star witness Jonnie R. Williams, a suspected con man under federal investigation who had agreed to testify in exchange for a generous immunity agreement. Dry acknowledged that jurors might suspect that Williams had lied. But then he argued, “Who cares?” The jury could “discount everything, every single word uttered by Mr. Williams,” he said, and it wouldn’t matter. There still remained a mountain of evidence to prove the government’s case that McDonnell and his wife had used their status to obtain $138,804 in gifts and loans from Williams.

“Who cares” if Mr. Williams lied? The jurors apparently did not; they found the governor guilty on all counts, his wife on nine. But Virginians should care. When Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell are sentenced for their convictions early next year, they may well be sentenced to jail time, and the amount of time will be determined in part by the number of counts for which they were convicted. If some of those convictions were obtained from tainted testimony, they will be punished excessively and unjustly.

Virginians also should care about the lengths to which a Democratic Attorney General’s office was willing to go to win a conviction against a popular Republican governor. Prosecutors put forth as a witness a man whose narrative evolved over some ten meetings with the FBI and federal prosecutors, whose story about a key encounter with McDonnell changed within the trial itself. Indeed, law enforcement officials had every reason to question his story themselves. If they won their convictions through tainted testimony, is that really the way Virginians want the rule of law to work?

Government’s key witness

Serial entrepreneur and Star Scientific Inc. founder Jonnie Williams had been fined in the 1980s by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he remained on the federal government’s scam radar. At Star Scientific, he peddled the promise of developing a “safer cigarette.” When that futile quest collapsed, he claimed to have discovered a miracle compound, anatabine – as big as penicillin — that potentially could fight Alzheimer’s and other diseases linked to inflammation. But he faced a steep climb to gain acceptance. Virginia’s secretary of health and human services, among others, dismissed the product as “worthless.”

Unbeknownst to the public, the First Couple was struggling financially with crushing credit card debt and underwater real estate investments in Virginia Beach. Prosecutors argued that the McDonnells engaged in a conspiracy to trade the prestige and support of the Governor’s office for Williams’ gifts and loans. The McDonnells hosted a luncheon praising Anatabloc in August of 2011 at the Governor’s Mansion. The First Lady spoke at Star investor conferences across the country.  The Governor popped Anatabloc at official meetings and helped set up meetings with state government officials.

For all the documentation the feds had gathered, however, they lacked “smoking gun” proof of a quid pro quo.  McDonnell argued that he did no more for Star Scientific than he would for any promising Virginia company. Prosecutors needed Williams to provide evidence of a tacit conspiracy to trade favors for gifts.

The first time investigators interviewed him, Williams described the McDonnells as friends. He denied trying to buy influence with his loans. He praised the Governor’s integrity. But the government ratcheted up the pressure, probing into potential insider trading transaction involving Star Scientific stock. The second time he met with investigators, they granted him “use” immunity, which prevented his testimony from being used against him. Williams then said there was a “wink and a nod” agreement to exchange gifts and favors. In a meeting shortly before the trial, the government offered “transactional” immunity that protected him from other offenses, including the insider-trading probe. His story changed yet again. This time, he said, he was never friends with Maureen and Bob McDonnell. Their dealings were business transactions, and they knew they were exchanging gifts for favors.

Accordingly, prosecutors made the following keystone charge, upon which much of the rest of the case would hinge, in its indictment:

Before agreeing to provide the requested financial assistance to the defendants, JW [Jonnie Williams] spoke directly with ROBERT MCDONNELL about the $50,000 loan. In that conversation, ROBERT MCDONNELL explained the defendant’s financial difficulties. ROBERT MCDONNELL informed JW that the rental income from the defendants’ rental property in Virginia Beach was not covering the bills for those properties. JW agreed to provide the $50,000 loan with a two-year term at 5% interest. JW also informed ROBERT MCDONNELL that loan paperwork was not necessary.

Williams later admitted in court that the deal freed him “from worrying about going to jail.” Legal experts were hard pressed to remember other instances of prosecutors granting such broad immunities in a corruption case.

Shifting story

May 2, 2011, was a key date in the prosecution’s conspiracy timeline. The prosecution alleged and the defense did not dispute that Williams and Mrs. McDonnell met at the Governor’s Mansion. Mrs. McDonnell revealed the family’s credit-card and rental-property issues to Williams, and Williams agreed to give her a $50,000 personal loan and to cover $15,000 in catering costs for daughter Cailin’s upcoming nuptials.

The other key date was May 23, 2011, the day that Williams delivered the two checks. It happened to be his wedding anniversary, and he and his wife Celeste were planning to have lunch at the Jefferson Hotel. Williams dropped by the Governor’s Mansion on the way to deliver one check for the catering company and another made out to Mrs. McDonnell. Williams and his wife stayed about an hour and fifteen minutes, he testified at one point. “We went upstairs and had a salad.”

Why, the defense asked, did he make out the $50,000 check to Maureen McDonnell? Because, he testified, that’s to whom she said to make it out to.

Federal anti-corruption law applies to elected or appointed public officials. As First Lady, Mrs. McDonnell was neither elected nor appointed. She was a private citizen. While it was wildly inappropriate in the eyes of the public for her to offer Williams her services in exchange for the $65,000, it was not illegal. To demonstrate a conspiracy that involved McDonnell, prosecutors had to show that the Governor knew about the arrangement at the time.

Williams testified that he insisted upon speaking to McDonnell about handing over the money. “I needed to make sure the husband knew about it. … He’s the bread winner in the house, and … I’m not writing his wife any checks without him knowing about it.” The prosecution cited this “evidence” in closing argument to say, “What does this tell you about who the loan was really to?”

The indictment says the two men “spoke directly,” implying a face-to-face meeting between the two. But when asked by prosecution during the trial, Williams became evasive about when, or even if, such a meeting took place.

I recall that it was on the day that I came there or somewhere – I just don’t recall whether it was in person or whether I talked to him on the phone. … I called him and said that, you know, ‘I’ve met with Maureen. I understand the financial problems and I’m willing to help. I just wanted to make sure you knew about this.”

According to Williams, McDonnell thanked him and commented that the Virginia Beach properties were the main source of his family’s financial difficulties.

In testimony later in the trial, McDonnell insisted that no such meeting or conversation ever took place. Williams’ account was “absolutely false.” He said he did not find out about the loan until two weeks later.

During cross examination, William Burck, Mrs. McDonnell’s defense attorney, probed inconsistencies between what Williams had testified in the trial and what he had told the FBI back on July 2, 2013. The trial transcript records this exchange:

Burck: You told prosecutors that the Governor came over from his office using the tunnel between the Governor’s Office building and the [executive] mansion. This is right after you gave the check.

Williams: Yes

Burck: Do you remember telling them that?

Williams: I recall telling them that the Governor came over because I learned about that tunnel that comes over from the Patrick Henry Building to there. But I’m not sure if – I’m not 100 percent sure if that’s where I met with him and briefly with his wife and made sure about the loans or that I talked to him over the phone. I’m not 100 percent sure of that as I sit here. … I can just tell you that before I gave the Governor and his wife these checks, I made sure the Governor knew about it.

During the trial, Burck then asked Williams about different testimony he had given the FBI:

I may have said that – I was confused. Actually, I may have said that, then, yes. But later I learned, my memory was refreshed, and I’m not sure whether on that occasion, because clearly, the second one I did, but on the first one, I wanted to just make sure that he knew about this loan. And I don’t know if I did that on the phone or if I met with him … in person.

Williams’ testimony became even more problematic under cross-examination by McDonnell’s defense attorney. Henry Asbill bore in on Williams’ meeting with Mrs. McDonnell when he dropped off the checks.

Asbill: You ended up staying there longer than you wanted, is that right?

Williams: We had difficulty getting away.

Asbill: And Bob McDonnell was not present when you dropped off the checks, was he?

Williams: I just don’t remember. I have a problem with that part.

Asbill: Before those checks were cut, between the 2nd of May and the 23rd of May, you never talked to Bob McDonnell about those checks, did you?”

Williams: No. … All I can tell you is May the 23rd, I personally delivered those checks, left my wife in the car out front so I could go make sure the Governor know about those checks. And whether I met with him there briefly or whether I called him, I did that. That was my purpose of going to the Governor’s Mansion.

The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence of any kind. But the defense presented a May 28 email message from McDonnell to Williams: “Jonnie, Thanks so much for all your help with my family. Your very generous gift to Cailin was most appreciated.” The governor made no mention of the $50,000 check written to Mrs. McDonnell. Why would he thank Williams for the $15,000 wedding gift and not the larger $50,000 loan unless he didn’t know at that point about the loan? Perhaps there is an explanation for the omission, but the email creates reasonable doubt about Williams’ version of events.

Flunking the smell test

For most people, conversing with the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia about checks totaling $65,000 – gifts and loans which they hoped would grease the skids for forthcoming favors – would stand out in their mind. “I generally don’t have a problem with my memory,” Williams boasted at one point during his testimony. Yet, unlike his keen recollection of other events, this critical encounter got lost in the mists of time.

Did Williams meet McDonnell in person or talk on the phone? He couldn’t remember.

If he did meet with the Governor in person, did the meeting take place in the tunnel between the Patrick Henry building and the Governor’s Mansion, or in the mansion itself? He couldn’t say.

What did the governor say? Williams supplied only the vaguest details.

Did Mrs. Williams stay in the car during the meeting with Mrs. McDonnell or did she come upstairs with them for a salad? He gave conflicting accounts.

Did Williams meet with McDonnell before providing the $65,000, as stated in the indictment, at the same time he handed over the checks to Maureen, or after? He had a problem “recollecting that part.”

Despite the full resources of the FBI and the Virginia State Police, the prosecution produced no corroborating evidence of any kind. It produced no record from the Governor’s Mansion’s log that Williams had met with the Governor. It produced no telephone exchanges, emails or text messages that hinted at a communication. It produced no witnesses. The case came down to McDonnell’s word versus Williams’ word.

To top it off, the little that Williams did say about the conversation did not plausibly mesh with the facts. Williams’ $50,000 check to Mrs. McDonnell did not go toward covering bills for the rental property. Mrs. McDonnell used $1,500 to pay bills. She used the rest to buy Star Scientific stock. Her action seems more consistent with the Governor’s story that he knew nothing of the loan until two weeks later — confirmed by his thank you note that failed to mention the loan — than it does with Williams’ story that McDonnell said he needed the money to help with his underwater real estate investment.

Williams had every reason to create a clever, hazy fabrication. He understood the weakness in the prosecution’s case. The Justice Department needed him to establish that McDonnell knew about his wife getting the $50,000 and giving his prior approval.

Why was Williams’ story so critical to the prosecution? Because the next solo, face-to-face meeting between the two men didn’t take place until March 2012, when Williams handed over two checks totaling $70,000 to help with the governor’s real estate investment — after the McDonnells had performed most of their favors, such as they were, for Star Scientific.  The prosecution linked that meeting to only one subsequent favor performed by the governor: initiating a meeting with the Secretary of Administration to discuss how Anatabloc might help reduce costs of the Virginia state employee health plan. That meeting, incidentally, led to nothing.

For all practical purposes, McDonnell stopped doing Star Scientific any favors after setting up the March 2012 meeting. Without William’s testimony about the May 23rd meeting, there was nothing to link the parade of favors – setting up meetings with government officials, attending Star Scientific events, the kind of things that governors routinely did – with Williams’ gifts and loans.

Who Cares?

The government’s lead prosecutor was wrong to say, “Who cares” if Williams was lying?

Take away Williams’ assertion that he talked to Governor McDonnell on May 23rd, and the government is left with a purely circumstantial case so weak that prosecutors had offered before the trial to allow McDonnell to plead guilty to a single minor felony charge – a deal that McDonnell rejected.  Contrary to prosecutor Dry’s assertion that the jury could “discount everything, every single word uttered by Mr. Williams” and it wouldn’t matter, Williams’ testimony was central to the case. If Williams’ testimony was inessential, why then did the government grant the businessman blanket immunity, even for a securities investigation not related to the case?

The jury bought the prosecutors’ argument. But the government’s story, not McDonnell’s, is the one that wilts under scrutiny.

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30 responses to “Was Bob McDonnell Convicted with Tainted Testimony?

  1. A few problems with the time line.

    Campaign 2009. Williams loans McDonnell plane for campaigning.

    Dec. 2009. The McDonnells share cognac with Williams in New York. Williams suggests he buy inauguration dress for Maureen but aides kill idea. She says she’ll take a rain-check.

    October 2010. Gov and WIlliams fly back from GOP event in California and Williams talks about need for Anatabloc research. By some testimony, McD suggests Tobacco Commission but hide origin of request.

    April 2011. Maureen pitches “deal” to Williams. She needs bucks — the origins of first loan. She complains of financial problems.

    June 2011: Daughter’s wedding helped by $15K check from Williams.

    Summer 2011: Maureen starts pitching Anatabloc.

    July 2011: McDs’ vacation free of charge at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake retreat takes rife in Ferrari.

    Pitches made for Anatabloc research by Maureen. Launch held at Executive Mansion in August.

    Late Falal: Rolex watch gift

    February 2012: McD meets with Williams to get loans.Flurry of emails over stalled research. Loans granted with Bob’s intercession.

    Various golf games.

    Etc.

    Jim is trying to find a little daylight for his argument in one small opening but there’s such much other stuff that is damning. The jury obviously believed the prosecution.

    Jim may not like their verdict. Here’s wishing him luck as he follows the appeal.

  2. One more thing, Jim.

    You are still in a wilderness of confusion about federal corruption law. One does not have to be an elected official to be convicted of honest services fraud which Maureen was found guilty of.

    Read this example from Sunday’s Post about a Maryland-based lobbyist who was likewise so convicted. He wasn’t a public official

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-virginia-ethics-advice-from-someone-who-knows/2014/10/24/dafa6170-5892-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html

  3. I think Bacon has invented a new thing – Jury Nullification!

  4. Dry acknowledged that jurors might suspect that Williams had lied. But then he argued, “Who cares?” –
    …. he said, taking his cue from the Hillary Clinton school of Unaccountability in Leadership.
    I have never had any doubt that the energy behind the lengthy and expensive federal prosecution was political, but it does not matter to me.
    For us military and former military officers, which ironically includes McDonnell I suppose, an essential element of leadership is the conduct of one’s personal as well as professional life. In the midst of the Cold War and I’m betting today as well, an officer did not put him/herself in a financial position so as to put one’s integrity in a precarious position, one that could be bought. I expect nothing less from our political leaders, which admittedly is a joke because so many are in politics to get rich, although there is nothing to indicate McDonnell was one of those.

    Regardless of the (political) reason for the unusual federal interest in conducting this prosecution or the smarminess and bought testimony of their lead witness, I have no sympathy for McDonnell and do not mind at all his overwhelming criminal conviction. There was an easy way to avoid it, conduct your affairs to a higher standard and don’t be a dumb a**.

    Regrettably there are hundreds of other politicians getting far richer who have sold their influence with calculated premeditation who will never be prosecuted or called into question.

    • and I suspect a good number on the Jury reasoned the same way that Bill SBLOTS did/does…

      and same here… McDonnell and his wife put them where they ended up – not Williams nor Holder nor anyone else but these days we have no shortage of excuses and blame for people’s own bad behavior… which as BillB has pointed out is unbecoming of a military guy… and otherwise honorable people.

      I do not lust after either of them spending time in a jail cell.. that’s a tragedy… and a horrible end to what was a reasonable term of Governor but blaming this on Williams and Holder is ludicrous.

    • Billsblots, I’m not excusing McDonnell’s behavior. He should never have taken any loans or gifts from Williams. He should not have let his wife take loans or gifts. Once she’d taken them, he should have given them back (before his behavior was exposed). From a political perspective, McDonnell’s behavior disqualifies him from ever holding public office again.

      But just because the public finds behavior reprehensible, that doesn’t make it a crime. In a country with a rule of law, you can’t convict someone of a crime merely because you’re sick and tired of lying politicians who line their pockets.

      What you should also be wary of is a government that has the power to convict almost any politician for anything. To quote from the article Peter cited above:

      Congress has given ambitious prosecutors a powerful weapon in the federal honest service statute. The law is so broad that every public official in the country — from a U.S. senator to a local dogcatcher — is subject to prosecution for accepting gifts from private interests.

      If you get caught, you will almost certainly be convicted. News flash to lawmakers: The public doesn’t like you all that much, and it likes lobbyists even less.

      • re: ” In a country with a rule of law, you can’t convict someone of a crime merely because you’re sick and tired of lying politicians who line their pockets.”

        obviously not familiar with a Directed Verdict!

  5. I love Jim’s lame answer that I have heard so many, many times before. “Oh, I don’t say what (put name here) did is right, there just should be no regulations preventing it.”

    It’s like telling a spoiled brat, “if you promise to never do it again, you won’t be punished.”

    Are we seeing the “magic of the free market” here?

    • Peter reminds me of Madam Lafarge, sitting with her knitting needles and cackling, “Guillotine! Guillotine!” He wants McDonnell’s head on a pike — no matter what!

      The McDonnell scandal absolutely does show the need for tighter regulations. What transpired in the Governor’s Mansion *should* be illegal, and I have said so on multiple occasions.

      But in a country with the rule of law, you don’t convict people for violating laws and regulations that you wish were in existence when the offense was committed. That seems to be a principle to which you, Larry G. and others appear oblivious. Just remember, the worm turns. One day there will be a Republican in the White House and Republican appointees in the Justice Department, and they’ll use the precedents set by the McDonnell conviction to go after a high-ranking Democrat. Wait and see, dude, wait and see.

      • re: ” But in a country with the rule of law, you don’t convict people for laws and regulations that you wish were in existence.”

        In Virginia where the “rule of law” just sucks big time, especially compared to other states, the Jury may well disagree….

        there was plenty to convict him on… you’d have to be corrupt as he is to let him off.

  6. Amen. But why wait for that to happen? There’s always the McDonnel l SwampWay, which I hope you haven’t finished exploring.
    It does seem to me that whatever else comes of this conviction, it has forever reduced the reputation of the Virginia Way as the Gentleman’s Exception to the sleaziness of ordinary politics.

  7. So, a few things, and I know you’ll pick and choose what if anything you’ll respond to.

    1) Bob McDonnell’s systemic privilege fills out all the circles: white, male, able bodied, heterosexual, Christian, politically well connected, financially well off and (at least according to the straight women and gay men in my life) quite the handsome fella. Unless the jury finds a clear violation of the law – and even if cases where they do – defendants like this don’t get found guilty.

    2) Bob McDonnell had a legal team that was 20 deep. He’s a lawyer and a former Attorney General. He and his team should have been well prepared for anything the prosecution would throw at them. If this team couldn’t convince the Republican-appointed judge something was improper about the prosecution’s tactics then there probably wasn’t.

    3) You keep talking about “the rule of law, the rule of law.” McDonnell was convicted in a jury trial. This wasn’t the DOJ trying him in front of just a judge or a hidden military tribunal. This was out in broad daylight in front of a jury of his peers. The prosecution can say whatever it wants during the closing arguments, but so can the defense. If they failed to sway the jury that is the fault of the defense, not the fault of the government.

    4) If you think McDonnell was railroaded then your problem is with the whole system, not this single case. There are worst things happening to people accused of smaller crimes in the John Marshall building today.

  8. Virginia ranks 47 out of 50 in corruption risk – an overall “F” score:

    http://www.stateintegrity.org/virginia

    and Jim talks about “rule of law”.

    and what I’d say is that the Jury weighed in Virginia’s corruption laws as much as they did the McDonnells – and they found them BOTH – GUILTY”

    In a lot of other states, the McDonnells would find themselves on their way to prison – period.

    In Virginia we have apologists like Jim Bacon who want to pretend the McDonnells “broke no law”.

    the technicalities that the McDonnell’s and their apologists whine about – would bring derision and laughter in other states …

    It’s takes a powerful strong person to defend the McDonnells..

    his wife did the dirty dealing .. but it was “legal” because she’s not elected or appointed and we know it was her alone and not the Governor – because they were not on speaking terms… and it gets even worse from there on…

    I’ve see better excuses from mobsters… and the Jury surely felt they were being played for rubes… and rightly took umbrage….

    and remember – this all occurred with a GOP-appointed judge and a 20 member defense team…

    and Jim B… he should star in a movie called “Honey, I shrunk myself”!

    tsk tsk

  9. Interesting comments so far. So far, no one is disputing the fact that Williams’ testimony about the May 23 was squirrely as hell. No one is rushing to defend Williams’ credibility and insisting that he was telling the truth. What I’m hearing is, it doesn’t matter, McDonnell had it coming one way or another.

    • I don’t question the one area you talk about because there are many other areas… and beyond that ample evidence that the relationship between Williams and the McDonalds was much, much more than that one incident – something you don’t seem to understand…

      but worse – the MORE you do impugn Williams – you MORE people would ask why the McDonnells would get involved with such a guy to start with.

      He had a history as you point out – and McDonnell was the AG and surely was aware of it – and yet even when his own advisers were telling him to be careful.. he was, himself, on the phone and in person dealing with this guy.

      you pick one thing out of dozens and say “aha”… WTF?

      • The “one thing” we focused on was foundational — it was the thing upon which many other things were based. Take away the foundation and much of the case collapses — not all of it, but a lot of it.

        As for McDonnell showing colossally bad judgment by trusting Williams and accepting gifts from him, yeah, absolutely. I’ve said that myself a dozen times. That bad judgment disqualifies him from public office, as far as I’m concerned. But bad judgment is not a violation of the law, except in Larry World and Peter World.

        • re: Larry’s world

          try most other states who have reasonable ethics laws unlike Va.

          We are the Dodge City of ethics laws..

          My view is that it’s not the “rule of law” when our legislators have hijacked the ethics laws… and allow folks like the McDonnells to make a mockery of basic ethics… which is what brought the Feds in …

          you’re trying to defend the indefensible…

          In MOST states – MOST people would find what the McDonnells did – illegal –

          only inVa with it’s mockery of ethics is it even remotely questionable behavior.

          • Fine, Larry, if you don’t like the ethics laws (I don’t like them either), then change them. Don’t apply your new standards after the fact. We don’t apply laws ex post facto in this country. That’s fundamental!

          • The McDonnells were over the line anyhow – we’re talking about one aspect that would not even be a gnat on a dogs butt in most states.

            Even if you take that away – there’s enough left to convict them Jim.

            If you look at what grounds there are for appeal – isn’t it going to be if an error was made?

            The Jury’s acceptance of the credibility of Williams is not an error.

            How many people have been convicted in Va when a witness of questionable veracity took the immunity deal ?

            We have hundreds of people in jail right now because of such testimony so it’s not like a double standard was used on the McDonnells.. It’s a fairly typical prosecutor strategy…

            it was a jury trial.. the jury got to weigh the pluses and minuses of Williams credibility.. what more would you want?

        • And the Jury’s World!

          It didn’t start out this way, but you’ve done a really good job of convincing me the McDonnell conviction is a good thing for Virginia. Hiding behind “it was bad but it wasn’t actually unlawful” doesn’t cut it in this situation, brought about by politicians careful not to enact laws that would demand anything close to ethical behavior. Yes, the federal honest service statute is overbroad, but it operates to fill a vacuum in State law that is shameful. Yes, the case against McDonnell may have been tainted, but [as LOTFL notes] a jury convicted him; the jury could have been as dismayed as you were by the overall sleaze factor revealed here and sought to overlook weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. As LarryG says, “the Jury surely felt they were being played for rubes… and rightly took umbrage.” If it wasn’t unlawful it should have been; plus, if we had meaningful Virginia limits on gifts to our politicians, we wouldn’t be suffering the embarrassment of having the feds come in to do our job for us.

          You ask, “is that really the way Virginians want the rule of law to work?” Yes, I think it is. If the jury took liberties, maybe they felt they had to, to overcome the liberties the legislature has awarded itself over many years.

          • ‘The federal honest service statute is overbroad, but it operates to fill a vacuum in State law that is shameful.”

            Very true. The McDonnells’ behavior clearly shows the need for ethics reform. But that behavior shows the need for reform regardless of whether they were convicted or not.

            Am I glad that their behavior has been revealed to the public? Yes, I am. Am I glad that their gift taking provided an impetus for ethics reform (however inadequate)? Yes, I am. Do I believe their sins justify convicting them for laws that we wish were on the books but weren’t, or on the basis of tainted testimony? No, I don’t.

          • You’re defending a corrupt system Jim Bacon.. and people who take full advantage of playing right up to edge of the boundary of that corrupt system.

            shame.

    • Testimony that is squirrelly as Hell happens all the time. Should we just remove eye witness testimony from our court proceedings? (Some people say yes, and with good cause: http://www.livescience.com/16194-crime-eyewitnesses-mistakes.html). Did he have a compelling interest to fabricate testimony to avoid prosecution? If so, should we do away with transactional immunity altogether?

      Neither you nor I know if Johnnie Williams lied. You think he did. Bob McDonnell said he did. The judge and the jury disagreed. The defense couldn’t prove it. If it makes you feel any better, I sympathize with what you’re experiencing. I will go to my grave with the belief that George Zimmerman is a liar and murderer.

  10. You know, this entire series of blog posts is truly nuts. You spend six weeks at a jury trial and the jury says “guilty” and suddenly, there’s no “rule of law.”

    Insane!

  11. James et al – The McDonells had so many advantages and yet they were still convicted. Let’s hope none of us have to face the imperfect and messy criminal justice system because as we’ve seen in the North Carolina it can make horrific mistakes, even in death penalty cases.

    But this doesn’t seem to me to be one of those because:
    1. The McDonnells had excellent representation.
    2. The judge ruled that the case was good enough to go to the jury.
    3. It’s up to the jury to decide who is the liar. Apparently it found that it was the Virginia first couple. It certainly had plenty of evidence to decide that the McDonnells were untrustworthy.

  12. All these arguments about the McDonnells remind me of the Ford Pinto case. If you recall, the award against Ford was for $420 millions. Everyone thought that was excessive. But the jury gave the best justification for it: Ford knew of the problems, estimated the damage at $420 millions, and Ford decided it was an acceptable risk. So the jury made them pay it!

    Likewise with the McDonnells: they rolled in the sleaze so they must enjoy the benefits. As for those who want to pick on technicalities: the McDonnells had two very expensive teams of lawyers. If there was a weakness in the testimony, they should have revealed it.

  13. Geez, Bacon, It’s now July 2015 and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions. WHy don’t you take this down?

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