mcdonnell-1By Peter Galuszka

It’s a sad day for Virginia.

Former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife have been charged by federal authorities with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and obtaining property through their office in connection with their relationship with Jonnie R. Williams, former chief of Star Scientific.

The indictments represent a new threshold for the Commonwealth, which prides itself on having corruption-free officials. For decades, the state has believed in “the Virginia Way” dating back to the days of gentlemanly cavaliers who always did the right thing.

The fact that Gov. and Mrs. McDonnell played their wholesomeness card so often just makes the entire situation seem so tawdry. McDonnell once was considered possible presidential timber.

A cursory read of the charges shows a politically ambitious family caught between presenting a salable image and their disastrous personal financial situation linked to some bad real estate investments before the 2008 financial crash.

The indictments claim:

  • McDonnell’s 2009 election staff approached Williams in March 2009 about using his private plane for campaign purposes. McDonnell told me personally at WRVA studios last summer that he had known Williams long before that. The indictment says that the two “had never met and they had no personal or professional relationship.”
  • In December 2009, governor–elect McDonnell and his wife were at a Four Season Hotel in New York for a political meeting. Williams approached McDonnell’s staff for a meeting and ended up buying Maureen McDonnell an Oscar de la Renta dress for the upcoming inauguration in Richmond. In an email, Mrs. McDonnell said she needed financial help with her clothing because, “We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural us killing us!!”
  • Not only did Mrs. McDonnell regularly solicit funds from Williams but so did the governor, as a string of emails shows.
  • The McDonnells allowed their images and their position to be used to help Williams and his struggling company with a dietary supplement named Anatabloc.
  • McDonnell directly spoke with Williams about the possibility of loaning him thousands of dollars to cover failing resort properties he had bought.
  • Williams sought and received help from the McDonnells in trying to get researchers at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University to research the chemical element that is the key to Anatabloc. The McDonnells promoted the product at the Executive Mansion and Mrs. McDonnell flew in Williams’ private aircraft to Florida and Michigan to promote it.
  • The McDonnells repeatedly sold stock in Star Scientific, Williams’ company, before Dec. 31 deadlines so they could avoid reporting it on state reports.
  • McDonnell and his family used Williams to play at an exclusive golf course in Goochland County although Williams was not present. They also borrowed Williams lakefront house worth several million dollars. Williams sent an expensive foreign sports car for McDonnell’s use and Maureen sent Williams a photo of the governor driving it.
  • Williams bankrolled a McDonnell daughter’s wedding luncheon as well as a trip for two children to a “bachelorette” party in Savannah.

If what the charge says is true, the McDonnells were living a double life to deceive voters. They projected a wholesome, God-fearing family while they were actually grabbing what they could to live the high life while trying to stay afloat in the secret financial morass they kept away from public eye.

My takeaway? Enough Virginia mythology. It is time for a real State Ethics Commission.

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3 responses to “A Sad Day for the Commonwealth”

  1. an indictment is not a conviction.. and unless more stuff comes out.. with a smoking-gun quid-pro-quo, I bet the McDonnells’.. walk.

    I’m just agog that just a few months ago, that McDonnell thought he was a legitimate contender for VP for the US..

    I guess it’s the state of our politics but it’s sad to think that someone with that kind of judgement can believe they might be a national leader…

  2. Breckinridge Avatar

    The indictment is devastating. I no longer think the McDonnell’s can walk and I’m sure lawyers are telling them to take a plea. Not sure they will. Juries are hard to predict. But read the indictment and there is enough in there that the prosecutors had to bring this to trial. Circumstantial evidence is still evidence and the depth and breadth of this goes far beyond what news accounts have revealed.

  3. It’s a bad spot to be in – when you’re not flush with cash to pay lawyers.

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