TOPICS > Politics

Ex-Gov. McDonnell found guilty of corruption and fraud in Virginia

September 4, 2014 at 8:45 PM EST
The corruption case against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen has come to a close. In a dramatic end to the emotional saga, the former governor wept as the jury charged him with 11 counts of corruption and his wife with eight. Judy Woodruff debriefs with Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF:  To politics tonight and two very different stories.

First, a jury today found former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a one-time rising star in the Republican Party, guilty on 11 corruption-related charges. He could face years in prison. McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, was also on trial and found guilty on nine of 14 counts.

We’re joined now by Bob Holsworth. He’s a longtime Virginia political analyst and the former director of Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Bob Holsworth, we welcome you to the program.

First of all, remind us what Bob — what Governor McDonnell and his wife were charged with. And then what are they being found guilty of?

BOB HOLSWORTH, Political Analyst:  Well, they were charged with 11 counts of conspiracy to obtain goods under the color of official right. They were charged with essentially bribery and fraud.

And they were also charged with two counts of bank fraud. They were found not guilty on the two counts of bank fraud, but on all the key charges dealing with public corruption, fraud and bribery, the jury found Governor Bob McDonnell guilty and found Maureen McDonnell guilty of most of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And so some of us were following the reports of the trial as it went along. What happened then to the defense argument that the McDonnells were simply doing what every governor does, that he meets with a lot of people, does favors for people, only in the course of being governor?

BOB HOLSWORTH:   I think what happened here is that the jury rejected every element of the defense’s argument.

And on the point that you just made, Judy, what they suggested is that, first, Bob McDonnell, according to jury, basically took a bribe from Jonnie Williams. Jonnie Williams came into the governor’s office, offered him a loan at sweetheart terms. He said he would give him $50,000. He wouldn’t have to repay that loan at all until four years later, when he left the governorship.

At that, it would be 2 percent, and after that, he said there was going to be no documentation at all. We can just do that on a handshake. And I think, when Bob McDonnell did that, that started the course where the jury eventually reached its conclusion today, because what it then suggested is that simply by concealing that, the prosecution suggested, and the fact that Bob McDonnell took some actions that, even if they were relatively routine, after he had received that bribe from Mr. Williams, he should be found guilty of taking an official act on his behalf after receiving that bribe.

The defense time and again suggested Bob McDonnell did nothing unusual for Mr. Williams. But when the judge instructed the jury, he said an official act didn’t have to be something unique or unusual. It could be something taken in the normal course of events. And once the jury connected that act to what they considered to be the bribe, Bob McDonnell found it very, very difficult to withstand the jury’s furor today.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what about the story we were hearing from the McDonnell defense that basically the governor and his wife were having marital difficulties and, therefore, they couldn’t have possibly worked together to try to arrange favors from this businessman? 

BOB HOLSWORTH:   Well, it seems very clear that the jury rejected this defense absolutely uniformly, that they simply didn’t believe that it was the case.

The prosecution argued that it didn’t matter. They said they certainly communicated enough to act in concert. And in some elements of the case, the prosecution demonstrated that. For example, in one of the key e-mails that Maureen McDonnell sent to one of Governor Bob McDonnell’s close advisers, they were able to prove that that e-mail was sent while Maureen was sitting next to Governor Bob McDonnell in his SUV.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  as someone who’s watched Virginia politics for a long time, Bob Holsworth, what are you making of this, first time a Virginia governor has been found guilty of a felony? 

BOB HOLSWORTH:   Well, it’s certainly a day of infamy in Virginia. It’s a day over infamy for Bob McDonnell, in that it cements his reputation in a way that was unimaginable a couple of years ago.

And it’s also a dynamite charge through the culture of Virginia politics, because we have very permissive laws with respect to gift and loans and those kinds of things. And Bob McDonnell throughout the trial and his defense noted that he didn’t break any Virginia law, that he was very careful in how he parsed things not to go beyond the bounds of any Virginia law.

And what this shows, in that he was convicted today, is that these lenient Virginia laws actually provide not much protection for political figures who might engage in loan-taking and gift-taking and the like, and that Bob McDonnell was seen by a jury as violating federal laws on a services fraud and on taking property under the color of official right.

And I think this is going to have a dramatic impact on every elected official in Virginia in terms of how they think about accepting gifts or loans or trips that they’re likely to receive from lobbyists and other interest groups in the state.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Just a remarkable comedown story.

Bob Holsworth, we thank you for joining us.

BOB HOLSWORTH:   Thank you.