The Washington Post story of former Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen is a fascinating morality play on privilege and hubris, the both of them convicted last week on multiple felony counts relating to trading influence to nutritional supplement businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for tens of thousands in cash and gifts. His meteoric fall from 2016 hopeful to convicted felon represents everything wrong with today's GOP.
As McDonnell entered the last of his four years in office in 2013, things could not have been going better politically for the former state attorney general. Nationally, he had recently concluded a term as president of the Republican Governors Association, and he was increasingly being mentioned as contender for his party’s nomination for president in 2016.
At home, polls showed McDonnell to be hugely popular as he prepared to steer his signature achievement through the state legislature: a bipartisan plan to improve the state’s crumbling transportation network.
But unbeknown to McDonnell, the chain of events that would lead to last week’s guilty verdicts had already begun.
Virginia State Police were quietly investigating allegations that Williams had paid $15,000 for catering at the 2011 wedding of one of the governor’s daughters. The governor had not disclosed the gift.
The information came from the mansion’s former executive chef, Todd Schneider, who was fired in 2012 after he came under suspicion of stealing food.
On Feb. 15, 2013, state police officers interviewed the first lady about Schneider, a session scheduled purportedly to help close out their investigation of the chef and send his case to a grand jury for charges.
They asked Maureen McDonnell questions about the former mansion chef. But an officer also asked her about an unrelated topic: Williams, his wedding check and an additional $50,000 check made out to the first lady from a trust run by the businessman.
McDonnell lawyered up, and the rest is history. The Washington Post broke the story last March and the whole dirty ball of twine began to unravel. By April a grand jury had been convened, by July Jonnie Williams had agreed to turn state's evidence, and the rumors about McDonnell's resignation had begun. By Christmas, the plea bargain of guilty for one count of lying to a bank in exchange for his resignation and disbarment as a lawyer was in the works. Maureen McDonnell would have not been charged.
McDonnell rejected the deal insisting he wasn't guilty.
Last week a jury proved otherwise. Enjoy prison, Bob. Shoulda taken the deal.