Category Archives: Money in politics

The Huge Controversy Over Gas Pipelines

atlantic coast pipeline demonstratorsBy Peter Galuszka

Just a few years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe seemed to be a reasonable advocate of a healthy mix of energy sources. He boosted renewables and opposed offshore oil and gas drilling. He was suspicious of dangerous, dirty coal.

Then he started to change. During the campaign last year, he suddenly found offshore drilling OK, which got the green community worried. But there’s no doubt about his shifts with his wholehearted approval of the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposed by Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources, along with Richmond-based Dominion, one of McAuliffe’s biggest campaign donors.

The $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline is part of a new phenomenon – bringing natural gas from the booming Marcellus Shale fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio and northern West Virginia towards busy utility markets in the Upper South states of Virginia, North Carolina and parts ones even farther south. Utilities like gas because it is cheap, easy to use, releases about half the carbon dioxide as coal, which is notorious for labor fatalities, disease, injuries and global warming.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would originate at Clarksburg, W.Va. (one of my home towns) and shoot southeast over the Appalachians, reaching heights of 4,000 feet among rare mountain plants in the George Washington National Forest, and then scoot through Nelson, Buckingham Nottoway Counties to North Carolina. At the border, one leg would move east to Portsmouth and the Tidewater port complex perhaps for export (although no one has mentioned that yet). The main line would then jog into Carolina roughly following the path of Interstate 95.

It’s not the only pipeline McAuliffe likes. An even newer proposal is the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would originate in southern West Virginia and move south of Roanoke to Chatham County. It also faces strong local opposition.

atlantic_coast_pipeline mapThe proposals have blindsided many in the environmental community who have shifted some of their efforts from opposing coal and mountaintop removal to going after hydraulic fracking which uses chemicals under high pressure and horizontal drilling to get previously inaccessible gas from shale formations. The Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, the birthplace of the American oil and gas industry, has been a treasure trove of new gas.

The fracked gas boom has been a huge benefit to the U.S. economy. It is making the country energy independent and has jump started older industries in steel, pipe making and the like. By replacing coal, it is making coal’s contribution to the national energy mix drop from about 50 percent to less than 40 percent and is cutting carbon dioxide emissions that help make for climate change.

That at least, is what the industry proponents will tell you and much of it is accurate. But there are big problems with natural gas (I’ll get to the pipelines later). Here’s Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College professor and nationally known environmentalist writing in Mother Jones:

Methane—CH4—is a rarer gas, but it’s even more effective at trapping heat. And methane is another word for natural gas. So: When you frack, some of that gas leaks out into the atmosphere. If enough of it leaks out before you can get it to a power plant and burn it, then it’s no better, in climate terms, than burning coal. If enough of it leaks, America’s substitution of gas for coal is in fact not slowing global warming.

Howarth’s (He is a biogeochemist) question, then, was: How much methane does escape? ‘It’s a hard physical task to keep it from leaking—that was my starting point,’ he says. ‘Gas is inherently slippery stuff. I’ve done a lot of gas chromatography over the years, where we compress hydrogen and other gases to run the equipment, and it’s just plain impossible to suppress all the leaks. And my wife, who was the supervisor of our little town here, figured out that 20 percent of the town’s water was leaking away through various holes. It turns out that’s true of most towns. That’s because fluids are hard to keep under control, and gases are leakier than water by a large margin.

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Whatever Happened to Ken Cuccinelli?

cooch.pixBy Peter Galuszka

During the grueling, nearly-six-week-long trial of former Gov. Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell that ended Thursday, one prominent political figure seemed oddly absent – former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli.

The firebrand conservative who lost last year’s gubernatorial contest to Democrat Terry McAuliffe was a significant player in the McDonnell scandal. He took favors from prosecution witness and businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., such as enjoying airplane rides to New York and Thanksgiving and summer vacations at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake house.

Like McDonnell, he didn’t initially report Williams’ presents on state disclosure forms and was later cleared by a state prosecutor of any wrong doing. He was placed on the potential witness list by McDonnell’s lawyers but was never called.

Yet Cuccinelli played an early and much-unreported role in the case. Todd Schneider, the governor’s chef who plead guilty to some misdemeanors for stealing food, was apparently first confronted by State Police and the FBI on Feb. 10, 2012. Shortly afterwards, that March, Schneider had long chats with Cuccinelli and his staff about the wrong doing involving Williams and the McDonnells.

Cuccinelli was oddly quiet about the matter until the following November of that year when he further involved the state police and FBI. What took so long? No one seems to know.

There’s no uncertainty about Cuccinelli’s involvement with Williams, however. In the early days of his term as attorney general, some of his staffers were put up at Williams’ 29-acre estate in Goochland County while they found lodging in Richmond. Cuccinelli was reported to have visited the home.

His ties with Williams caused some problems. Cuccinelli had to recuse himself from representing the state in a long-standing lawsuit involving the taxation of some building’s owned by Star Scientific, Williams former company. Other representation was produced at taxpayers’ expense.

During their four years in office, it seemed clear that McDonnell and Cuccinelli disliked each other and often worked at cross purposes. Cuccinelli was a polarizing element on such issues as hounding a former University of Virginia professor on climate change, covering up the lactation gland of the woman on the seal of Virginia, and pushing stringent anti-abortion policies that led to the shutdown of many legal abortion clinics. McDonnell did some of the same but tried a bigger tent approach on his marquee legislation on funding transportation.

Todd Schneider, the chef who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., doesn’t care for Cuccinelli much either. “He’s got the personality of a stone, and he talks forever. I’d sit there and I’d be like, ‘Oh, my God—will you just be quiet?,’ ” Schneider told the Washingtonian.

Tension between McDonnell and Cuccinelli was clearly visible to the staff. “They wouldn’t talk to each other,” Schneider says. “As soon as they took a picture together, they would take off to opposite places in the room.”

Since losing the gubernatorial election and leaving office, Cuccinelli has headed the Senate Conservatives fund. According to the Washington Times, his organization has blown several elections.

The Day The Guilty Verdicts Came In

mcd convictedBy Peter Galuszka

Day Three of waiting. The jokes in the tiny seventh floor media room of the U.S. District Court Building have grown stale.

We’d discuss what the jury ate for lunch (Padows? Jimmie Johns?) which we could see as the trolley rolled through the security doors. We were amusing ourselves by reading a hilarious underground Website (yoflo.net) about the McDonnell trial called “You’re Only First Lady Once,” replete with haikus such as “Empty beach house/A greedy wife and five kids/ jail will not be fun.”

Suddenly, one of the Post reporters blurts out from her screen, “Verdict.”

We rush out to assume our positions at the courtroom down the hall. My mission and goal, as explained by my Bloomberg News editors, is speed. First guilty verdict, fly out of there and either call or tweet or email. Go back. Detail can come later.

It took some time for the intellectual rights trial over patents to clear up before we could go in to the courtroom where we’d spent the better part of six weeks. There was an air of excitement in the first corruption trial ever of a Virginia governor. It is truly as heart-pounding moment, a coiled spring kind of thing. And once it finally starts, it has own unique swiftness.

Jury’s in — seven men and five women after 17 hours of deliberating. “Have you reached a verdict?” Then, “Guilty on Count One of Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Wire Fraud.”

My cue. I duck past the U.S. Marshals at the door and get in a sprinting race with a young Post reporter. Make the curve by the elevators but she’s gaining and gets first to the media room, the only place we’re allowed to have the electronics that let us do our jobs. I fumble with my cell and finally get the number of Joe, my rewrite editor in New York. The goal is to beat the Associated Press. Did we? Joe doesn’t know yet.

I report, and according to plan, go to the sixth floor overflow room with remote television access to the courtroom, since it will be impossible to get back into the room where the action is. By now they are on Count Nine: Obtaining Property Under Color of Official Right.

I hear what sounds like sobbing. Then wailing, rising in a crescendo with each stab of a guilty verdict. It is a weird reality TV show kind of audio. Both Robert F. McDonnell and his wife are crying although I can’t see them. The wailing is from one of their daughters. It’s hard to describe emotions at such times. It’s like watching a bad car wreck. It is not funny.

The reporters form up, true to pack etiquette, and make sure we all have the right verdicts. Then it’s down to the street where the chum of photographers awaits. There is an emotional electricity on the streets, sort of like being in a hospital corridor when a relative finally dies.

The U.S. Attorney and the FBI are speaking into a mass of microphones maybe 50 feet away. Most, however, are waiting for the McDonnells. Ashen faced, the former Governor leaves the building in a mass of people. He thanks the press for how it handled things. He is pushed into a grey Mercedes. Then Maureen, wearing a brown suit, slips past with one of her daughters, and enters into a grey Infinity Q50, which speeds after the Mercedes.

Guilty!

So, the jury has convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 of 13 counts and Maureen of nine.

I’m stunned. The prosecution presented no evidence of quid pro quo, and evidence of a conspiracy struck me as weak and circumstantial. But I didn’t attend the trial, I didn’t hear the full testimony, and I didn’t get to appraise the veracity of the witnesses. I can’t help but wonder how much the judge’s instructions to the jury influenced the outcome but I’ll accept the fact that the jury reached the proper verdict.

While I did not regard the McDonnells’ behavior as illegal, I did view it as deplorable. Perhaps jurors were making a statement that they’re sick and tired of the way the political system works, and they’re not going to take it any more. Regardless, it can’t hurt to send a harsh message to the political class.

To borrow a phrase from Henry Howell, a populist Virginia politician of yore, “Keep the big boys honest.” Let’s follow up by fighting for greater transparency and tighter conflict-of-interest rules.

– JAB

It’s Oh, So Richmond!

By Peter Galuszka

cantorWhen I looked at my Richmond Times Dispatch, I was stunned. I couldn’t find a story that their wunderkind Congressman, Eric Cantor, the kind of Republican they love, had gotten a big deal job with Moelis & Co., a New York boutique investment bank.

There was the story in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Finally, the RTD straggled  on with brief piece at 6:22 a.m. on its Website.

Maybe it’s embarrassment. Cantor, the former House Majority Leader, could do no wrong with his Main Street Republican friends or the editors of the local newspaper. His wife, Diana, was on the board when the newspaper was owned by Media General. Then came his stunning defeat in a June primary to unknown David Brat, who ran a mash-up of a Tea Party and Libertarian insurgency.

Moelis says it is hiring Cantor “for his judgment and experience” and ability to open doors, says the Journal. He’ll live in Virginia and have offices in Washington and New York.

Well, that was quick! Or maybe not. Cantor has raised $1.4 million from the financial services sector, as well as lots from managed care. His sense of entitlement is astounding. First, he thought he didn’t have to bother with the home folks in the Seventh District any more, costing him the election. They he arranged (with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s help) a special election.

Doing so would get his replacement in office faster and thus Virginia can keep its seats on some important committees. But it also frees Cantor to take his plum job.

You didn’t read it in the RTD first! Somethings will never change.

Why There Will be No Ethics Reform

maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

As the McDonnell corruption trial moves towards its end, the predictable stories are decrying – once again – Virginia’s absurdly lax ethics laws and why they must be toughened.

There’s the usual observation that the five-week extravaganza of a trial that is drawing international attention will put the state on an entirely new axis when it comes to public integrity. Plenty of harrumphing.

The General Assembly, however, had its shot this winter and came through with only very mild changes putting dollar limits for tangible “gifts” while failing to take any kind of substantive measure, such as establishing a real investigatory ethics commission.

The best work I’ve seen has come from the Roanoke Times’ Dan Casey who pored over the new ethics law that went into effect July 1 and compared it with testimony that ended last week at the McDonnell trial (it goes to the jury tomorrow.)

A few of Casey’s pointers:

  • The famous $6,500 Rolex. Would Jonnie Williams been stopped from giving it to Maureen and then Bob McDonnell? Not at all. The new law says that officials, spouses an immediate family may not accept anything tangible that is more than $250 in value. But, this applies only to lobbyists and business executives seeking state contracts. Williams wasn’t looking for a traditional state contract, specifically. He wanted gubernatorial help in prompting his product Anatabloc and gubernatorial muscle to pressure state universities into researching its key ingredient, anatabine.
  •  Bob probably wouldn’t have had to report the Rolex because it came from a “personal friend” who is not a lobbyist or person doing business with the state. At least McDonnell testified that he thought he was a friend. Not Jonnie whose plan was  to schmooze up Maureen and Bob, get them to get state university research and then the schools would apply to the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission to give them more research money (plus the prestige of having the University of Virginia or Virginia Commonwealth University seal of approval on it.)
  • McDonnell daughter Cailin didn’t want the $15,000 Jonnie gave for her wedding luncheon. In fact, she wanted a very different, much smaller wedding that she and her husband would mostly finance. Mommy and Daddy said no but were short funds and Jonnie helped out. Would the new law change anything? Not at all. The law puts the $250 limit on “tangibles” but “intangibles” like dinners, outings, five figure vacations, a wedding event or $5,000 Louis XIII cognac bottles don’t count although they are supposed to be reported.
  • As for an ethics commission, we have a milquetoast “advisory” panel that has no investigative power. Once again, the “Virginia Way” prevails (see my Washington Post piece from last year. The state is all about self-policing because it is assumed that since Thomas Jefferson was honest, Virginia politicians must be, too. While Virginia has an excellent data base, the Virginia Public Assess Project, a non-profit, that can reveal what’s reported quickly and easily, it is too often seen as a substitute for a real ethics commission with subpoena power.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who signed the limp-wristed law, says he wants to review ethics and make regs tougher.

I doubt that will happen. I do not think we’re seeing a sea change in attitudes among legislators. Even if voters were going nuts, they’d still have to deal with a General Assembly that is dominated by hard-right Republicans who are selected in primaries and not general elections and are probably the most conservative ever thanks to gerrymandering and the anti-reg mantra they pray like a Rosary.

Can GiftGate happen again in Virginia? In the words of convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich: “You betcha!”

A Confederacy of Cynics

But Maureen gave them back

But Maureen gave them back

By Peter Galuszka

It was an odd scene. The first floor security point at Richmond’s federal court was filled with spiffy, middle aged blonde women all chattering loudly as the grandfatherly guards tried to herd them through. Some had so much bling, they had to go through the metal detector three times after removing yet another trinket or belt or watch or bit of jewelry. Normally, the line would be the usual mob of family, reporters, sketch artists and stray onlookers.

On the  corridor outside the seventh floor trial room, it might have been cocktail hour at the Republican Governor’s Association. The same pack of blondes was there. Many had large handbags stuffed with big pillows for their day on the hard wooden seats. Hugs and kisses everywhere. One man was especially natty in a Navy blue blazer, open necked striped dress shirt and a year-round tan. Palm Beach, anyone?

A younger woman kept bumping into people amidst the din as we all waited to be let in the courtroom. She sported a thin Louis Vuitton handbag. Then it struck. This is Maureen McDonnell’s cheering section for closing arguments that lasted from morning until early evening on Friday. That designer name, along with Oscar de la Renta, seems to have been her favorites when she pushed businessman Jonnie Williams to take her on shopping sprees or send her things.

After the Virginia State Police called in for an interview in February 2013, she packed up the goodies and sent them back to Jonnie. In some cases, these were items she had received two years before. Suddenly Maureen wanted to give them to “charity” or to one of the Williams’ daughters.

And that — the curious timing of scores of seemingly unrelated events over a period of more than two years from 2010 to 2013 — is what the seven men and five women jury must decide this coming Tuesday.

The point isn’t the gaucheness of the designer label stuff. Ms. McDonnell wasn’t a public servant and normally could accept whatever she wanted from Williams or anyone else. If it were stock, her husband, the former governor, would have to report it on his annual Statement of Economic Impact form. One year, Ms. McDonnell sold her stock in Williams’ company Star Scientific before the reporting deadline only to repurchase it the next year. The conclusion seems obvious, but draw your own.

It’s these kinds of coincidences that really do add up, argued David Harbach, a deputy at the public integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice, who set up a powerful case against the McDonnells by connecting the evidentiary dots. Jonnie meets with the couple, the inaugural dress comes up and is dismissed by the governor’s staff but Maureen gets a Williams spending spree in New York as a consolation prize.

Or take the Bob McDonnell. He’s setting up meetings for Williams to break free possible research on his product by top state schools just as he is mulling of terms for a $50,000 loan from Williams (his staff is kept in the dark about how much he is in hock to JW, a self-styled “Southern Boy”). The pattern seems rather obvious after five weeks of mucking through a swamp of often confusing evidence. An email comes in, a deal with Jonnie for something personal is struck, a check arrives, an email is sent, and a luncheon at the Executive Mansion or some other event featuring the Governor or the First Lady or both pushing Anatabloc, Williams’ anti-inflammatory nutraceutical, is scheduled.

“He wrapped himself up in the flag of the Commonwealth and stomped on it,” Harbach told the jury. “This is not how governors behave. Don’t stand on the coattails of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Don’t let them do this.”

For the jury to do just that, it will have to weigh a key point of law. This is how far the idea of “honest services” goes with the wire fraud counts. It basically means that it is a crime if public officials deny their honest services to their citizens by accepting bribes or become involved in a conflict of interest. Prosecutors argued there doesn’t have to be a clear quid pro quo, something defense attorneys William Burck and Henry Asbill hammered against for hours. Honest services fraud has been used to nail former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, former U.S. Congress (and top Navy pilot in Vietnam) Duke Cunningham and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Supreme Court has moved to define more narrowly how “honest services” can be defined but it still is on the books. A crucial turn in the drama will come Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer gives his extensive instructions to the jury. His definition of “honest services” will be an important part of that. Meanwhile, if you demand a “smoking gun” (whatever that is supposed to mean), I suggest you get back to watching Perry Mason reruns.

The defense spent a lot of time bringing up the McDonnells’ troubled marriage and financial debt. This is sad, tough stuff to go through day after day. And it is easy for anyone to be drawn into pangs of sympathy for hyper-anxious, lonely Maureen or serious, well-meaning Bob, “Boy Scout of the Year,” according to one friendly witness.

Contrasting that, of course, is the greedy, scheming Maureen (a “nutbag,” according to a staffer) and a self-absorbed, double-dealing Bob who should have known what is right and wrong for a public official to do. Conversely, he also would know how to hide stuff on his disclosure forms. We tend to forget that he was state attorney general not that long ago.

The creepiest part of all of this is how slyly the defense has humiliated Maureen as part of the “throw her under the bus” strategy. Yet she is going along with it, as her husband of 38 years. In doing so, the McDonnells are doing an amazing thing. They are actually beating Jonnie Williams on the cynicism scale and even the prosecution says he’s a criminal. No doubt about it.

I agree with the prosecution that Bob is a phony. On the stand, he was by turns humble and scolding. He casts himself as a public servant so pure of heart that it was almost a joke to listen to. He was always “accepting responsibility.” But he was always blaming someone else. Maureen, of course. His former brother-in-law screwed up the books at the troubled beach houses. He didn’t report a few golf outings on Jonnie’s tab at the posh Kinloch club in Goochland County because his staff screwed it up.

“This is a sad case, “Michael Dry, a prosecutor, told the jury Friday. “It is sad for the McDonnell family and sad for the state of Virginia.”

The View from Federal Court’s Media Room

mcdonnell By Peter Galuszka

The media corps is just starting to amble into small room granted by the U.S. District Court, albeit with tight rules. No cell phone calls outside the cramped quarters in the hallways. No slouching in the corridor with your laptop on the floor hoping your cellphone hot spot still works.

If you violate the rules, guards under the supervision of U.S. District Judge James Spencer, you could have your electronics confiscated.

The fun part is that it’s a congenial group with several from the local newspaper, three from The Washington Post which broke the McDonnell story, one from the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, Politico and me, for Bloomberg News.

We sit for hours on hardwood seats waiting for breaks to file updates or stories. The television folks must go tot he sidewalks outside and they have been admonished by tough Judge Spencer not to block the doorways.

The witnesses are a study in contrast — the largest being former Gov. Bob McDonnell who seemed calm, collected, even charming under three days of defense direct questioning.

It was a different tune yesterday under cross by Asst. U.S. Atty. Mike Dry, who in a steady and deliberate manner foisted a metamorphosis of McDonnell that would have done Kafka proud. Gone was the likable, good-looking man who almost broke down when he was shown the lovesick email he wrote his wife to save his failing marriage.

McDonnell had turned clipped, angry and confrontational. The more crew-cut Dry hit home at the contradictions, the more McDonnell went to tart ?No” or “Yes” answers.

How could it be that you and Maureen were so strained in your relations that you barely spoke (and thus could hardly conspire) when you took 18 trips with her in a 22 month time frame, including Florida, Kiawah, Smith Mountain Lake and other places.

You say you are a “good personal friend” of Richmond philanthropist William Goodwin (who gave you the $23,000 Kiawah trip). Name his children. McDonnell couldn’t.

You say your finances are in order (and you had a financial “expert” show that rentals at Sunseeker down in Sandbridge and the other properties were on the mend. How is it then that about a dozen financial institutions turned you down for traditional refinancing and you had to go to personal sources like Jonnie Williams for a bailout?

And if you were upset that wife Maureen had taken a $50,000 loan from Williams without your knowledge, why did you wait more than a month to contact Williams to ask what was going on?

We’ll have to see how long Dry continues with his cross examination. Some say it might end today. His strategy is to draw out endless inconsistencies. We’ll see how it works with the jury.

Bob McDonnell’s Big Decision

 smith_mountain_lake2By Peter Galuszka

It was a gubernatorial quandary only Virginia could have .

In the summer of 2011, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was ready to take a few days off. He and his family had been going to Smith Mountain Lake, a popular destination near Roanoke with lots of golf courses and seven-figure lakeside homes.

At his corruption trial this week, McDonnell testified that his summer getaway had been bankrolled by Delta Star, a company with a big factory in Lynchburg that makes portable industrial electrical gear. The firm had put him up at one of their lakefront houses for $2,474 in 2010, according the VPAP, which runs a data base about this kind of thing.

Summer 2011 had proved a big problem, however. His wife, Maureen, had become fast friends with Jonnie R. Williams a rich Goochland County businessman. Williams had given Ms. McDonnell a $50,000 check and also paid $15,000 for her daughter’s wedding luncheon that June. She had traveled with Williams helping promote Anatabloc, Williams dietary supplement that has since been pulled off the market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The problem was — whose million-dollar-plus house would the McDonnells use? Williams very much wanted the McDonnells to stay at his sprawling domicile on the tip of a peninsula. Delta Star wanted the McDonnells to stay at their place.

What to do? They split it. The McDonnells stayed at Williams’ house for a getaway valued at $2,268 value according to VPAP. He also laid on a Ferrari that the governor could enjoy driving on the way home.

Delta Star made sure the family was entertained and fed. They provided the family with their very own boat to cruise the lake and catered meals – a $1,892 value for a long weekend.

Delta Star’s feelings didn’t seem to be hurt since they laid on another entertainment gift worth $10,182 in 2012.

And while we’re talking lakeside homes, guess who else also stayed at Williams’ place? Former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, that’s who – to the tune of $3,000 in 2011. We haven’t heard much recently from the former firebrand, hard right politician but he is on the witness list.

And so it goes. And, by the way, getting vacation favors is very common. Check out former Gov. Tim Kaine’s expensive sojourn on the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

It’s not the only way Virginia’s extremely lax ethics laws work.

If you use your PAC, you have an automatic teller machine. For instance, Tim Hugo of Fairfax, the third-ranking Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates, expensed nearly $30,000 for travel and food and $9,400 for his cellphone over an 18-month period. As a spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections told The Washington Post’s Laura Vozzella in 2013, “If they wanted to use the money to send their kids to college, they could probably do that.”

Bringing out the Knives

An Afghan pesh-kabz

An Afghan pesh-kabz

by James A. Bacon

There is a rising tide in the op-ed pages, TV commentary and blog commentary that former Governor Bob McDonnell is a brutish, swinish cad for portraying his wife Maureen as the heavy in the corruption trial. You’ve got to love liberals. They’re so very compassionate…  until they’re talking about their wounded enemies. Then, like the Afghan women in the Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Young British Soldier,” they scour the battlefield to “cut up what remains.”

If Maureen and Bob McDonnell had been Democrats instead of Republicans, we would be treated to a litany of perspectives on the heavy toll of political life upon the marriages of elected officials, the unambiguous signs that Maureen was suffering from depression, and speculation from mental health experts to provide subtlety, nuance and context to the story.

No such compassion is accorded McDonnell, who now is being depicted as a man who “betrayed” his wife and was willing to “flay” her character in order to save himself, just to cite the observations of Petula Dvorak and her headline writer in the Washington Post. (Bacon’s Rebellion‘s very own Peter Galuszka is no kinder.)

Here’s the question I would pose to them. If you were in McDonnell’s shoes, and if the marriage were the shambles he says it was, and if Maureen was indeed the one who solicited the gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, Sr., and if you truly believed yourself to be innocent of any illegality, what would you have done? Would you have, in Dvorak’s words, “manned up” and taken the plea agreement offered by prosecutors before the trial? How many people would admit to a crime they believed they did not commit?

Who really bears the moral onus here? McDonnell, for defending himself, or the prosecutors, who (a) proceeded with a case that’s looking flimsier by the day, and (b) called the witnesses whose testimony trashed Maureen’s reputation before McDonnell breathed a word?

McDonnell bears his share of blame for the failing marriage, as he seemed willing to concede on the witness stand yesterday. Maureen was happy living in Virginia Beach before he rose to statewide political prominence. He asked her to sacrifice a lot for his political career, giving up her cozy network of friends and her part-time job selling vitamin supplements. When he first moved to Richmond, the family lived apart while the kids finished high school. As attorney general and especially as governor, he traveled constantly and spent half his nights away from his wife and family. He insisted she use a small inheritance to pay down credit card bills. When Maureen expressed her increasing unhappiness by nagging and throwing tantrums, he withdrew from her, often spending extra time at the office. Emotionally exhausted from the confrontations, he did not question some of Maureen’s activities that he should have questioned — it was easier just to look the other way.

But McDonnells’ critics don’t mention any of these all-to-human failings that probably could describe thousands, even millions, of American men at some point in their marriages. Liberals bring out the long knives. They move in for the kill, portraying their weakened foes as morally reprehensible, as less than human.

In his poem, Kipling advised the wounded English soldier, “Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.” McDonnell did not roll over. Perhaps that was his worst affront of all.