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“Pipe Dreams Do Come True”: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Completes His Epic Political Fall

Bob McDonnell’s only been out of office for 10 days, but his post-gubernatorial life is already off to a rough start.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged the former Virginia governor and his wife, Maureen, in a corruption case over gifts the two received from the head of a dietary-supplement company. The former first couple is charged with requesting clothes, money, trips, golf accessories, and private plane rides from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams in exchange for their influence in helping get Star Scientific off the ground.

The most infamous favors were a $15,000 catering tab that Williams footed for the McDonnell’s daughter’s 2011 wedding and a $6,500 Rolex which Williams bought for Maureen to give to her husband. A Washington Post investigation last summer found that Williams had given more than $120,000 to Maureen McDonnell and a corporation owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister. In July, McDonnell said he would pay back all gifts from Williams.

Maureen McDonnell had bought thousands of shares in Star Scientific in 2011, and met with potential investors for the company in Florida, in addition to helping Williams get meetings with Virginia health officials. The McDonnells also hosted a launch event for the company’s dietary supplement at the governor’s mansion that fall.

The indictment lists $140,805.46 worth of property subject to federal forfeiture, including multiple pairs of Louis Vuitton shoes, two sets of golf clubs, two iPhones, and a silver Rolex engraved with “71st Governor of Virginia.”

Williams resigned as Star Scientific CEO in December. Bob McDonnell is the first Virginia governor to ever face criminal charges. He and his wife face 14 felony counts.

Even though the charges aren’t a total out-of-the-blue surprise, they are still astonishing for someone who had so many Republican hopes pegged to him. It was only a few years ago that Bob McDonnell was being mentioned as a potential future Republican vice presidential or presidential nominee. McDonnell was touted as a possible GOP savior as recently as last February. Even as late as last fall, Politico found that the governor was “defying political gravity” and was pulling off a “remarkable feat of political survival.”

In November 2009, the governor called questions about his presidential aspirations “pipe dreams down the road.” Just over four years later, “pipe dreams” seems pretty apt.


By: Matt Berman, The National Journal, January 21, 2014

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just A Shift In Strategy”: Virginia’s Gov Bob McDonnell Repays Loans, Says He’s “Deeply Sorry”

The scandal surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), which has intensified in recent weeks and threatens to push him from office, took an unexpected turn today when the governor apologized for causing “embarrassment” and announced he has repaid the loans he and his wife received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

From a statement posted online (pdf) today:

“Being governor of Virginia is the highest honor of my 37 years in public service. I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your trust and confidence. I hope today’s action is another step toward that end.

“Virginia has never been stronger and I plan to focus on creating even more jobs and facilitating greater opportunity during the last five months of my term as your Governor. Our work together on education, transportation, pension reform, voting rights, and economic expansion has produced great results for Virginia.”

The statement, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by The Rachel Maddow Show, goes on to say that Virginia’s first family has repaid Williams’ loans, including a $52,278. 17 loan to Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and two 2012 loans totaling $71,837 given to a real-estate business the governor owns.

The Washington Post noted today’s move “appears to represent a shift in strategy.” That’s certainly true — up until now, the governor insisted he had nothing to apologize for, and wasn’t in any rush to repay the generous loans the Star Scientific CEO sent his way.

Of course, if McDonnell expects this to resolve the matter, he’s going to be disappointed. After all, the scandal goes well beyond the loans, and included, among other things the extravagant shopping spree, the engraved Rolex watch, the lake house vacation, and the use of a Ferrari. There’s also all the steps, of course, the governor took on Williams’ behalf.

In other words, the scandal is far from over.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 23, 2013

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bob McDonnell Is Unfit For Office”: A Sense Of Entitlement And A Conviction Of Invulnerability

There are two swift routes to political downfall. One is sex. The other is money. The first is humiliating but survivable. The second tends to be terminal, even criminal.

Today’s topic is the second, in the form of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and the now mountainous evidence that — whether he technically complied with Virginia’s Swiss cheese disclosure laws or not in accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from a wealthy businessman — he has no business continuing in office.

The sordid McDonnell details in a bit, but first the comparisons between politicians and illicit sex and politicians and illicit money. They are linked to the twin delusions of the erring politician: his (I use the male form intentionally) sense of entitlement and his conviction of invulnerability.

I work so hard, the politician tells himself. I deserve a little (insert specific failing).

No one will find out, the politician tells himself. I was smart enough to get elected (governor/president/senator).

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are differences, as well, between the politician tripped up by sex and the one felled by greed. The former can argue that he was not thinking with . . . well, he was not thinking. He is hardly the first to do something dumb in the grip of lust, love, whatever.

Yet he most likely has a wife and family, collateral damage in his sexual escapades. Points off for that — and more off if he has his wife by his side at the confessional news conference.

The greedy pol is blameworthy in a different way, again both heightening and lessening his guilt. On the negative side, he was not swept away by the passion of the moment; he calculated that he could accept the money, the Rolex, whatever, and get away with it.

On the plus side — and this is explanation, not excuse — he may have been acting under familial pressure, and in what he conceived as the best interests of his family, rather than against it, as the straying spouse certainly has.

Much modern political corruption, especially of the penny-ante sort, can be explained by the yawning gap between the relatively paltry income of the politician and the wealth of the private-sector types fluttering around him.

The politician feels aggrieved, which in turn feeds his sense of entitlement. The political spouse sees her friends driving fancier cars, wearing fancier clothes — all this while her husband is probably working longer hours, to the detriment of his family. You can understand, although not excuse, the husband whose ethical judgment is warped by marital guilt, the wife whose judgment is warped by marital resentment.

Which brings us to the McDonnells, and the flagrant, repeated misconduct exposed by The Post’s Rosalind Helderman. The story began with relatively trivial, if astonishingly morally obtuse, bits of graft and back-scratching:

The $15,000 check that businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave to help cover the catering bill at the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding — an event that took place three days after Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted a dietary supplement made by Williams’s company, Star Scientific Inc. Three months later, Star Scientific used the governor’s mansion for a luncheon, attended by the governor, to promote the supplement.

The $6,500 Rolex, complete with engraved inscription, “71st Governor of Virginia,” that Williams bought for the governor at Maureen McDonnell’s behest. She allegedly requested the bauble moments before a meeting she had arranged for Williams to pitch a top state health official on the supplement.

● Maureen McDonnell’s reported $15,000 spree at Bergdorf Goodman, again on Williams’s tab — this a year after a staffer foiled McDonnell’s bid for a Williams-underwritten Oscar de la Renta inaugural gown.

Now comes reporting that raises the story to a new level of outrage: Williams last year gave $70,000 — supposedly a loan — to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister; plus $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell in 2011, and $10,000 as a wedding present this year to another McDonnell daughter.

As astonishing is the governor’s technocratic defense: that he is complying with the letter of Virginia disclosure rules, which do not require reporting of gifts to family members. “To, after the fact, impose some new requirements on an official,” McDonnell told a Norfolk radio show, “obviously wouldn’t be fair.”

But gifts and entanglements like these are simply wrong, a violation of the governor’s duty to citizens, whatever the rules. That McDonnell doesn’t get this basic point makes him unfit for office. Obviously.


By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 12, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New Revelations Imperil Virginia’s Governor”: It’s Becoming Increasingly Difficult To Imagine How Bob McDonnell Stays In Office

Just last night, while reporting on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) efforts to address one aspect of the scandal surrounding him, Rachel noted that the governor’s term in office ends officially in January, but “smart bookmakers everywhere are taking bets on whether or not he makes it that far.”

In light of a new Washington Post report, published this morning, the odds of McDonnell’s political survival are considerably worse.

A prominent political donor gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments.

The donor, wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also gave a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011, the people said.

The money to the corporation and Maureen McDonnell brings to $145,000 the amount Williams gave to assist the McDonnell family in 2011 and 2012 — funds that are now at the center of federal and state investigations.

Making matters slightly worse, the Post also reports this morning on a $10,000 “gift” the Star Scientific CEO gave to McDonnell’s eldest daughter, intended to help defray costs of her May 2013 wedding. You might be thinking, “Wait, didn’t we already know about Jonnie Williams helping pay for one of the governor’s daughter’s wedding?” We did, but this is another daughter — Williams gave $15,000 to help pay for Cailin McDonnell’s wedding in 2011 and then $10,000 to help finance Jeanine McDonnell’s wedding this year.

All of the extravagant gifts coincided with McDonnell and his wife working to promote Star Scientific and its products.

The governor may have a very good attorney, but it’s increasingly difficult to imagine how the governor stays in office. Indeed, one angle to keep an eye on in the coming days is how quickly Virginia Republicans begin to distance themselves from McDonnell as the scandal grows more serious. For one noteworthy GOP official in particular, that’s likely to be tricky.

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato said last night that we should expect state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, for example, to “break openly and sharply” with the governor “very soon.” And that would certainly make sense — Cuccinelli is in a competitive race to replace McDonnell, and won’t want to be tarnished by the allegations.

But that may be more difficult for Cuccinelli than is commonly known. Star Scientific’s Jonnie Williams may have been almost criminally generous to McDonnell, but he also directed over $13,000 worth of gifts to Cuccinelli, too — gifts the right-wing state Attorney General did not disclose.

On several occasions, Cuccinelli even vacationed in Williams’ beach house, despite the fact that Cuccinelli was ostensibly overseeing Star Scientific’s $1.7 million tax dispute with Virginia at the time.

Cuccinelli may want to start backing away from McDonnell in light of the scandal, but that’s easier said than done.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2013

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“71st Governor Of Virginia”: Governor “Ultrasound” Receives An Engraved Rolex From Influencial Donor

Just when it seemed the controversy surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) couldn’t get worse, it gets worse.

A prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to two people with knowledge of the gift, and the governor did not disclose it in his annual financial filings.

The $6,500 luxury watch was provided by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the people said. He is the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific and the person who paid for catering at the wedding of the governor’s daughter.

Coincidentally, the governor’s Rolex, engraved with the inscription “71st Governor of Virginia,” arrived about two weeks after Williams met with a leading state health official about his products. The meeting was arranged by Maureen McDonnell, the governor’s wife.

And given the luxurious gifts Maureen McDonnell received from Williams, this isn’t a good development.

Indeed, in this case, the Washington Post reported that Virginia’s First Lady was the one who encouraged Williams to buy the Rolex for the governor — a recommendation she made “moments before the meeting she had arranged” with the state health official.

Making matters slightly worse, the governor’s office insisted months ago that neither McDonnell nor his wife ever “led an effort to lower health care costs in Virginia by encouraging the use of Anatabloc,” Williams’ product. What the statement neglected to mention is that what happened outside Virginia: “On June 1 — three days before [the governor’s daughter’s] wedding — Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted the potential benefits of Anatabloc before a gathering of doctors and investors interested in learning more about its key chemical. There, one attendee said, she said she believed Anatabloc could be used to lower health costs.”

Remember when Bob McDonnell’s biggest problem was that he was “Governor Ultrasound”?

I don’t think this ongoing corruption controversy could get much worse, but then again, I’ve thought that before and been proven wrong.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 27, 2013


June 30, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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