By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of NBC12.
Could the upcoming trial of former Governor Bob McDonnell and First Lady Maureen McDonnell end with them acquitted and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder forced to quit? The spectacle formally begins on July 28 at the federal courthouse in downtown Richmond. The indictment lists 14 different criminal charges: 12 apply to both and each faces one separate count.
All stem from their relationship with local area businessman Jonnie Williams, founder and former CEO for Star Scientific, Inc., then based in Henrico. [The Company has since been renamed and moved to Florida]. While the company struggled financially due to huge losses and bogus product claims, Star’s often volatile NASDAQ stock helped make Williams one of Virginia’s wealthiest men.
Prosecutors allege their star witness and the defendants entered into what the indictment labels “The Scheme.” This involved “soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for Robert McDonnell and the OGV [the Governor’s office] performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arouse, to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies for Star Scientific’s products, including Anatabloc.” [The new product Williams hoped would help save the financially threatened company.]
This is the first-ever indictment of a Virginia Governor, the most important political trial in Richmond since Aaron Burr faced treason charges in 1807.
President Thomas Jefferson personally tried to convict his former Vice-President and now rival, but the jury quickly acquitted Burr after Chief Justice John Marshall, the legendary Richmonder presiding over the trial, short-circuited the political set-up.
The McDonnell trial happens to occur in the sixth year of President Obama’s term. He is suffering from the same second term blues as burdened Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush43.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s image has been hurt by increasing criticism from the left and right.
Fair or not, politics is in good measure perception. The Democratic led DOJ investigation into a sitting Virginia Governor is unprecedented. It occurred during the 2013 gubernatorial year aided and abetted by leaks. Until then, McDonnell reigned as the most popular Republican Governor in Virginia history, a possible 2016 GOP contender.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli ran a terrible campaign, as I explained in my Washington Post column, yet he lost by only 2.5 percent, the second smallest margin in modern times. Republicans believe an untarnished McDonnell could have helped Cuccinelli win.
Meaning: If McDonnell gets acquitted, the investigation may strike many voters as political, especially since Holder signed-off on giving Williams a rare form of blanket immunity from past criminal and related activities. Former prosecutors have publicly said they don’t recall such deals in these cases. It could get ugly.
Mr. Williams is a super salesman to some, a shady character to others.
He has been on the Securities and Exchange Commission stock scam radar since the 1980s. Some consider him the creator of a new Modus Operandi for selling worthless stock in questionable “health care” companies. It involves using alleged proprietary research promising future breakthrough products to unwitting investors, legitimized by associating the companies with academic experts, celebrities and others. This is the MO claimed in the indictment.
But Williams’ 30 year MO never before included a criminal quid-pro-quo exchange with any public official. Prosecutors claim the relationship began legitimate in 2009 but morphed into an illegal quid-pro-quo “scheme” by April 2011.
McDonnell denies it.
Does the government have the proverbial smoking gun? If not, the case may come down to how the jury answers these two dueling questions.
- After all these years, why would Jonnie Williams now admit to having entered in a criminal scheme and risk everything in defiance of his MO?
- Did the First Family’s financial situation - bleeding from bad real estate investments and a too expensive life style - cause former Eagle Scout Bob McDonnell to “jump the shark?"
Getting a conviction at trial requires a lot more evidence [beyond a reasonable doubt] than merely securing an indictment [merely probable cause] for the criminal acts charged. That’s why all defendants deserve the presumption of innocence.
Self-evidentially prosecutors believe Williams. A Virginia jury might be far more skeptical after he is cross-examined. McDonnell doesn’t have to take the stand. Will he?