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 opinions of NBC12.
Did the prosecution’s star witness take the witness stand late yesterday and unintentionally save the McDonnell’s from going to Prison? Last year, my original article, “Were federal prosecutors conned into pursuing Governor McDonnell?” found few backers even among McDonnell’s lawyers.
Now the media can’t get enough of the “Jonnie the Con Man” angle, the McDonnell defense is “all-in” on a strategy calling the Star Scientific founder a “master manipulator”, even the government concedes he initially defended the Governor and First Lady before changing his story.
Indeed the government and Mr. Williams now concede the accuracy of my piece, admitting to his Modus Operandi of using the “credibility” of high profile individuals praising his companies and/or products to make money. My article gives chapter and verse over several decades.
Until yesterday, I thought exposing him as someone who could sell snow to an Eskimo would be McDonnell’s best defense strategy. But not after Williams’ testimony yesterday.
WILLIAMS’ FINAL GIFT TO THE MCDONNELLS
“It was strictly business” Mr. Williams said yesterday about his relationship with the Governor and First Family.
Removing any “personal friendship” connection attempts to remove any motivation to give the cash, gifts and loans at issue without an illegal quid-pro-quo. Moreover, making it a strictly “cash and carry” straight business relationship seems consistent with the “pay to play” Virginia culture I lambasted in my Washington Post piece earlier this year.
BUT: In so doing, Williams also exposed the government’s case to a withering counter-attack.
Why? A true master con man doesn’t take a “[it was] strictly business” attitude. When caught, he always projects concern for the victim, displays an emotional connection, and promises to make things right if given the time. A master con man is a people-person to the end. It is part of the “shtick” as they say in the Big Apple.
BUT NOT JONNIE WILLIAMS. He showed not the heart and mind of a master con man. Instead, he had the amorality of a Predator. “[Everyone has] Gotta Serve Somebody” sang Bob Dylan in a song from his religious period.
A Con Man uses people. A Predator abuses people. In Williams’ mind, the McDonnell’s served him and his purposes: nothing more.
McDonnell lawyer John Brownlee thus has been given an unexpected gift. Going after Jonnie the Con Man is actually a trap, Williams is far slicker than anyone Brownlee ever previously faced.
Instead: Brownlee needs to go after the amoral “it’s strictly business” Predator, operating in his “caveat emptor” world where everyone serves the needs of Jonnie Williams. Start with Jonnie’s first failure back in the 1980’s, lay out every phony deal until the moment arrives to ask an updated version of the famous line that helped sink Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy:
“At long last Mr. Williams, have you no shame, have you no compassion, have you not done enough damage sir?”
I am not suggesting Williams and the McDonnell’s had a close relationship. But it is simply impossible for it to have been devoid of any emotional connection unless: Mr. Williams is incapable of such feelings as a Predator might well be.
This doesn’t excuse the McDonnell’s greed, their low-rent approach to the highest honor we bestow on any fellow Virginian and his or her family. I helped put some fine people in that job, we took the “No Blacks Need Apply” sign of the door, and we turned a house of segregation into a Mansion of inclusion. McDonnell’s actions infuriate me.
BUT in all honesty, I can’t decide what appalls me more: McDonnell’s blind ethical eye [his wife is a bit player really since she has no official power at all] or the prosecution’s blind ethical eye such that it would give a Predator a “get out of jail free” immunity so he could finish the job on his latest victim.
Let’s face the truth: Justice would have been better served immunizing the McDonnell’s and going after Williams.