Virginia’s Ex-Governor Is a Political Crook For Our Times

How Bob McDonnell squandered his once-promising political future, got convicted of public corruption, and blamed everything on his wife’s wandering eye.

09.04.14 8:45 PM ET

In an era of small-bore politics and lowered ambition, the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was the scandal best suited for the times. It did not feature outsized personalities or grandiose schemes. Unlike former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, McDonnell wasn’t trying to sell a United States Senate seat. And, unlike former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, McDonnell didn't try to portray himself as a loveable rogue.

Instead, McDonnell, who was found guilty on 11 counts related to public corruption on Thursday, spent the trial trying to convince jurors that he was just a henpecked husband struggling with his family’s credit card debt.

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell (2nd R) leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia with family members, including his son Bobby (R), after he found guilty in his corruption trial September 4, 2014, in Richmond, Virginia. The jury found McDonnell guilty of 11 corruption-related counts, and his wife Maureen McDonnell of eight counts. They were on trial for accepting gifts, vacations and loans from a Virginia businessman in exchange for helping his company.   (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alex Wong/Getty

The scandal revolved around McDonnell and his wife Maureen, who herself was convicted on eight counts related to public corruption for taking gifts from Jonnie Williams, a businessman trying to promote a tobacco-based dietary supplement called Anatabloc. These gifts ranged from$120,000 in low interest loans to Williams simply allowing the Virginia governor to spend a few hours driving his Ferrari. Prosecutors argued that in exchange for these gifts, McDonnell inappropriately used his office to promote Anatabloc and help Williams get state research grants to further study the drug.

McDonnell, who turned down a plea deal earlier this year, argued that he and his wife couldn’t have conspired to accept gifts from Williams because their marriage was so irretrievably broken.  The former Virginia governor’s lawyers portrayed their client as a man trying to save a marriage on the rocks to a woman who was increasingly prone towards “fiery anger and hate” toward him and had “a crush” on Williams.

When the verdict was announced in the federal court in Richmond on Thursday, McDonnell immediately broke down in tears and wept openly. It marked a huge fall from grace for a politician who was once considered a potential presidential candidate and rumored to be under consideration to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

The former Virginia governor and his wife are due to face sentencing in January 2015, although McDonnell’s attorney already said he will appeal the verdict up to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the meantime, if the conviction stands, McDonnell will be the first governor in the nearly 240-year history of Virginia, ranging from Patrick Henry to Terry McAuliffe, to be convicted of a crime.