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.”

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17 responses to “A Confederacy of Cynics”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    If the Judge uses an instruction similar to what Peter reasonably suggests (“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.”), how come no one has looked into Gerry Connolly’s vote as both Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and a vice president at SAIC add a Silver Line rail station in front of SAIC’s Tysons campus? And there are probably also other elected officials from both Parties who come close to Connolly’s sleaze.

    I’m not arguing herein that adding the fourth Tysons station was right or wrong, but why didn’t Gerry recuse himself?

    Another example, a European company offered to build a full tunnel at Tysons for a fixed amount that was, as I recall, less than the proportionate amount for the intra-Tysons section being charged by Dulles Transit Partners, i.e., Bechtel.

    I have no problem with the McDonnell trial, but remain extremely critical that everyone simply closes their eyes to anything that had to do with Dulles Rail and Tysons. Does smart growth ideology trump ethics laws?

    1. Connolly should have recused himself from that vote. However, even honest services fraud requires some level of evidence. Did Connolly’s vote make the difference in the decision?

      Also, Tim Kaine could certainly have been asked a lot of questions about honest service fraud based on his behavior as governor. Here is an excellent recounting of the gifts taken by Kaine and subsequent actions which could be called into question – http://bit.ly/1pwodwT.

      I’ve heard Godwin’s Law recommends that Nazis and slavery never be used in comparison to other things because both were uniquely heinous. Got it. I propose Don’s Law – the term “the Virginia Way” can never be used other than in complete contempt for our state government.

      1. DonB – why don’t you include McAuliffe in your list of violations of honest services laws?

      2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        If Gerry Connolly had not pushed and lobbied for the 4th station, it might not have been approved. Keep in mind the entire Phase 1 project could not qualify for federal funding at the time. How does adding additional costs help get federal funding for a project that was already too expensive for the amount of benefits it delivered (in terms of increased transit trips and decreased SOV trips)?

        And if one takes land use into account, why are the DTR drivers carrying most of the costs? Dulles Rail is and will continue to be one of the most corrupt schemes in Virginia history. It transferred billions of dollars of wealth from ordinary people who drive the DTR to well-connected landowners in the name of smart growth.

        One cannot draw a line on corruption between state and local government in Virginia. The Virginia Way is the Virginia Way.

        1. how do you distinguish between a political decision and a corrupt one?

          how do you not end up labeling every political decision a corrupt decision?

          I don’t see a clear bright line with the arguments being put forth.

          I just do not see how an honest distinction is being made here between a decision one agrees with and and one that one disagrees with.

          perhaps politics by it’s very nature involves decisions that are not pure objective decision-making…

          but then it seems like we are arguing against how we govern.. or governance itself …

          draw some clear lines..

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            My goodness Larry, an elected official should not vote on a project that directly affects his/her employer. I sat on a nonprofit board with another person who was employed for a time by a company that was involved with Dulles Transit Partners. He abstained on every single board vote that had anything to do with Dulles Rail. Is that too much to ask from Gerry Connolly? From any other elected official?

            The financing plan for Dulles Rail can only be described as a transfer of wealth from ordinary Joes and Janes that take the DTR to well-connected landowners while public officials lied that the Silver Line would reduce traffic congestion. This occurred even though the Final EIS prepared by the Warner administration in its final days showed spending the billions on the Silver Line would not provide any traffic relief. This is pure fraud.

  2. I agree with TMT. I’m opposed to double standards – period and the Honest Services idea seems ready-made to use or not use in a most subjective way.

    But I do not see the Chamber of Commerce or other groups that dislike the misuse of the Honest Services law coming to McDonnells defense –

    The prosecution said Williams was/is an unprincipled liar…

    Well DUH!!!!

    and he had both Bob and Maureen “fooled” thinking he was a “friend”?


    The Gov and his wife – after decades of being involved in all virtually all aspects of Virginia politics were “fooled” by a liar pretending to be a friend?

    Not once do either of them ask their staff “who is this guy”?

    do I buy the “poor” Maureen narrative? no..

    do I buy the tell the world that ” my ignorant shrew of a wife who I no longer talk to – made me do it”?

    I notice that not even Jim Bacon is defending him any more.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Yes, Mr. Bacon does seem strangely quite. Hmmmm.

    1. McDonnell’s best defense is to establish that Virginia’s laws don’t prohibit his behavior. And … if honest services fraud governs Virginia politics then the statute of limitations needs to be reviewed. Connolly absolutely voted for an action that economically benefitted his employer. Was his employment and subsequent act an example of honest services fraud. McDonnell is accused of taking gifts and then opening doors for the gift giver. He certainly did that. Kaine took gifts and then appointed the gift giver to a prestigious state position. What’s the difference?

      You want to see honest services fraud in action? Look at HB532 from the 2010 General Assembly session …


      “Home service contract providers. Exempts any home service contract provider that has a net worth in excess of $100 million from the provisions of Article 2 of Chapter 26 of Title 38.2 of the Virginia Code, which provides for the licensure regulation of such providers by the State Corporation Commission.”

      This is also a good example of how LarryG gets confused about government regulation. He assumes honesty on behalf of the government. Therefore, regulations are good and evil Republicans are always trying to revoke all regulations. HB532 – a disgraceful example of corporate welfare for big companies – was passed unanimously.

    2. I would most definitely like to hear any of the ardent Republicans on this board dispute the notion that it’s the Republicans in Virginia who oppose serious ethics reform. Bill Howell has been pretty clear that his free travel and free meals can’t be touched. And, of course, there need be no ethics committee. Legislators who are practicing attorneys should keep on electing the judges in front of whom they will try cases, there should be no limits on the duration of the company and industry specific tax breaks granted by the General Assembly as a means of saying “thank you” to gift givers, etc.

      The Washington Post has a good article -http://wapo.st/1uffbD8

      “I don’t think you can write a law that can cure what’s going on in the McDonnell trial,” said state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), expressing a common sentiment among state politicians who point to trial evidence of Maureen McDonnell’s possible mental illness and infatuation with Williams as unique circumstances to this case.

      Actually it would be quite easy to write a law – “No gifts to politicians over $25 in value. Period.” There, I just proposed legislation!

      1. re: ” This is also a good example of how LarryG gets confused about government regulation. He assumes honesty on behalf of the government. Therefore, regulations are good and evil Republicans are always trying to revoke all regulations. HB532 – a disgraceful example of corporate welfare for big companies – was passed unanimously’

        I don’t understand how you and Jim get so messed up on my position on regulations.

        I readily admit that some regulations don’t work – either as intended or otherwise but I also point out that regulations come from majority votes in the legislatures and usually with constituent support.

        If you want to claim that the entire legislature that you claim is feckless about ethics was also wrong about honest services – fine.

        I happen to dislike any law or any regulation that is not applied equally to everyone and is used as a double-standard.

        finally, when folks blame regulations on hurting the economy without specificity then it’s just political blather.

        Give me a list of the dirty dozen -along with their cost to the economy –

        make the case – just as you might with naming the biggest budget items in the budget or the biggest tax-expenditures , etc.

        make the case with specificity not with unspecified generic ideology…

        almost all regulations are justified and intended to protect one set of property owners not to solely penalize other property owners who are doing no harm to others.

        there’s “harm” to those unprotected also.

      2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        How would you treat the compensation (unknown in amount) paid to Gerry Connolly by SAIC when he was both chairman of the Fairfax County BoS and a vice president for SAIC when the BoS, with Connolly’s support and vote, approved added expenditures to build a 4th rail station in front of SAIC’s campus on Route 7? Is it a gift? A bribe? A payoff?

        This discussion reminds of a question I asked Senator Leahy (D-VT) some 25 years ago when I had the chance to attend a semi-private lunch meeting. Part of the discussion was Leahy’s concern that private business could improperly influence agency decisions when government employees were taken to lunch, etc. by lobbyists. I asked the senator whether his concern extended to lobbyists taking congressional staff to lunch. Senator Leahy replied “Of course not. That’s different.” I fear I gave myself away when my eyes got big as saucers.

        1. Did Connolly disclose his “conflict” when he voted? Many local officials will disclose their conflict and either say they can still act objectively or recuse themselves.

          what would you do? outlaw any votes that have conflicts ( I would).

          but you’ve wandered far away from what Gov might do.

          Would you suspect Warners support of technology interests when he was GOv of Va as a conflict with his own cellular business?

          would you prelude ANY legislator from participating in ANY legislative process that involved a company that had donated to him?

          would such a law essentially push even more donations to the Party Pack “with instructions”?

          Can you name the best states that laws that do better than Virginia – and name the top 3 or 5 that we should have in Virginia?

          just FYI – we have down our way – never-ending accusations of BOS being “developer-friendly” in their votes.. is that “illegal”?

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            The Fairfax County attorney, just days before he left to join a law firm, opined that Connolly had no conflict of interest. Give me a break. Connolly should have either had absolutely nothing to do with Dulles Rail and Tysons or have resigned from SAIC and had no compensation dependent on the addition of the 4th station or the general approval of the Silver Line. It is an irreconcilable conflict of interest for any Fairfax County supervisor to be an officer of a Tysons landowner that could gain or lose depending on county decisions affecting the Silver Line or Tyson re-planning. In this case, there is no middle ground.

            A governor of any state should put his/her investments in a blind trust before taking office and keep them there until after leaving office. I don’t know what Mark Warner did with his holdings, but I would expect him to stay away from any decision that could have an impact on his then holdings in Nextel. The Governor cannot step out of the room. He’s the only one who can sign or veto bills. If the GA passed a law streamlining cell tower siting rules, Warner (or any other VA Gov) cannot abdicate his constitutional duty to review and then either sign or veto the legislation. The only solution is to put his Nextel stock in a blind trust, such that the trustee may or may not have sold some or all of the stock.

            In expect legislators to follow the law re campaign contributions and not vote on bills directly affecting their employers or businesses. For example, I would expect Delegate Mark Keam, who works for Verizon, not to vote a bill that would deregulate most of Verizon’s services. I would expect him to vote on a bill that affected workers comp even though it affected his employer.

          2. I guess I like the blind-trust idea. And you may be right about the Connolly case…also.

            We did have a guy ruse his vote in a case involving proffers since he is a developer also but he has not done that with other cases.. so I’m wondering if you are a developer or employed by a company that supports infrastructure development – does that preclude you from voting ?

            this is why I’d like to know more about how other states handle this.

        2. Norm Leahy has an interesting perspective over at Bearing Drift:


          basically along the lines that Govs in general, with acquiescence and similar behavior to far more than the Constitution really permits them to do and that in doing those things – they inevitably get involved in conflicts of interest.

          but I’m not a fan of the strict constructionist view of the Constitution.

          I’d like to see those of that view – make a complete list of the govt function they consider ‘un-constitutional” and self-categorize themselves completely instead of nibbling around the edges every now and then.

        3. Here’s how regulations come about”

          “In Virginia, thousands of day-care providers receive no oversight
          The Post found there were at least 43 child deaths in such settings in the past decade in the commonwealth.”


          there is absolutely no question that if regulation is passed to deal with this issue that it will impose an economic cost on businesses and in turn purchasers of these services.

          Let me repeat that. If we pass regulation, it’s going to to cost money and, in turn, reduce the amount of money available for other things.

          Now the other side:

          Are people harmed, incur economic damage as a result of unregulated activities?

          Every new law in Va and Congress – requires an “impact statement”.

          such things are supposed to examine the cost-benefit. of the proposed regulation – to include the costs if no regulation is passed.

          when someone says that regulation “costs” and wants to do away with it – are they going back and re-looking at the cost-benefit – or are they looking at only one side of the equation?

          Why would someone want to roll-back regulation without re-looking at the cost-benefit that was used to originally justify it?

          this is what I keep referring to – as the sound-bite culture of the right these days.

          I’m not a unilateral defender of regulation. there is, no doubt, some that has ended up with higher costs than benefits – but to proceed with an ideology that presumes that ALL regulation fails that cost-benefit test is – … well… it’s ignorant.. it’s taking a sound-bite view of something.. willfully ignorant.

          That’s why I throw down the challenge to actually list the regulations and their “costs” when people say that regulation has gotten out of hand and needs to be unilaterally rolled back.

          we are slipping more and more into a sound-bite view of things we dislike. And it’s ignorant. There is frustration, justifiable in many respects but the idea that all and any regulation is a net deduction to the economy is not an intelligent approach.

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