A shocking moment for Virginia


“Pride goeth before the fall” doesn’t begin to cover it. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged Tuesday with, as The Washington Post reported, “illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond-area businessman who sought special treatment from state government. Authorities alleged that for nearly two years, the McDonnells hit up executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. again and again, lodging near constant requests for large loans, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides.”

Every defendant, including the McDonnells, deserves the presumption of innocence. In a statement, Bob McDonnell reiterated his apology for taking gifts from Williams, then the chief executive of Star Scientific, but asserted that he never did anything illegal. And we all know that the Justice Department, which is prosecuting this case, has had more than one case questioning public integrity unravel (ahem, Ted Stevens).

All that said, you can’t read the 43-page indictment without being floored by the McDonnells’ alleged multiple, ongoing and personal interventions to obtain riches from Williams. The indictment ticks off e-mails, calls and documents in which the two allegedly scheme to get loans, hide them from financial institutions and avoid reporting requirements.

Some Republicans sympathetic to the former governor have postulated that Maureen McDonnell was really the bad actor, attempting to live a lavish lifestyle that she and her husband could not afford. But if the allegations are true, then the former governor was more than simply a distracted spouse. He was a full participant not only in obtaining monies but also in nudging state officials to act on Star Scientific’s behalf.

For those who knew Bob McDonnell over two decades in Virginia politics, the allegations — as detailed and as damning as they appear — come as a shock. He was, to most observers, a straight arrow. Whether he is eventually convicted of any crime, McDonnell, as he has acknowledged, violated the public’s trust.

As unfortunate as it may be, his entire tenure as governor — education reforms, transportation funding, the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons and more — is virtually beside the point. He has become the only Virginia governor ever indicted. In the commonwealth — which, unlike Louisiana or Illinois, has not had a stream of felon governors — this is an unprecedented low in politics.

It should be a bracing moment for politicians of both parties. Greed is a powerful force, leading people to gross misjudgments. Combined with the self-delusion that accompanies power (They love me! I’m sacrificing for the public! I am above reproach!), this makes for a toxic and devastating brew.

Before the Star Scientific story broke last year, McDonnell was a plausible presidential candidate. Now he will be pressed to stay out of jail. That is as steep and sudden as any political collapse we’ve seen.

Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn.

© 2014, The Washington Post

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • The vibrancy of today’s American literature

    Sales at American book stores rose a measly 1 percent in 2013, according to trade accounts. It remains unclear whether that sluggishness — sales of ebooks have also tapered off — truly represents a further chipping away of the importance of books in our culture.

  • Kansas, the KKK and hate without end

    The news that a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan is suspected of shooting and killing three people near Jewish community centers in Kansas seems at first glance like a disparaged past flaring briefly into the present. Americans like to imagine that the KKK belongs to a long-gone South and anti-Semitism to a distant 20th century. Sadly, this better reflects a naive faith in the nation’s history of religious tolerance than the realities experienced by many religious minorities. Although the KKK has evolved and its membership has dwindled, it remains part of an American legacy of religious intolerance.

  • Don’t let Jeb Bush’s moderation confuse you

    Jeb Bush’s recent compassionate comments on immigration show how far apart he is from the far right of the Republican Party.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category