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.
Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the three men and one woman making up the prosecution have displayed the awesome power of the federal government when Uncle Sugar turns sour on anyone, even a governor. In a brilliant tour de force, they took possibly the thinnest public corruption case against a governor ever brought to trial (show me a thinner one) and made you believe Uncle Sam had saved us from Bonnie and Clyde.
I concede: Bob amd Maureen McDonnell have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but guilty of what, exactly in terms of the criminal law ?
“I want the truth!” demanded Tom Cruise when cross-examining Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!” countered Nicholson.
But it revolved around an often elusive courtroom concept: What, exactly, is the “truth?" For example, prosecutors have shown the McDonnells as less than forthcoming in filing the governor’s required annual economic disclosure report.
State law has a formula for valuing gifts, such as the donation of personal services, plane rides, and the like. The prosecution is right, the governor didn’t provide the transparency owed the public, but using the same standard, prosecutors have failed to tell Virginians this truth: the combined state and federal investigations into the McDonnells cost the equivalent of perhaps $100 million!
That’s right. Using the same required formula, go value what the government did: review 3.5 million documents, track down and interview 300 people, conduct two secret grand juries against the McDonnells and another one looking into key witness Jonnie Williams for millions of dollars in alleged stock fraud before he says a guilty conscience got him to change his defense of the McDonnells and instead rat them out. If you believe Mr. Williams, this change had nothing to do with being offered a generous immunity deal from prosecution.
If you believe Jonnie Williams? Talk about an oxymoron. There isn’t anyone who knows his legacy of 30 years being on the federal government’s stock scam radar who could possibly believe he is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth including the prosecutors.
$100 million for what exactly? Review the closest case I could find against a governor, the downfall of former Connecticut Governor John Rowland. It involved roughly the same largesse on an inflation adjusted basis in terms of what Rowland received personally, but he had been involved in awarding state contracts to benefactors and getting an illegally inflated price for a condo. None of this is present in the McDonnell case.
"But Paul," you say, "What about all the witnesses, the time-lines, the whole brilliant prosecution corruption case? It wasn’t just Williams, it is a sordid picture. ” Absolutely true, but this is also true: The hapless defense team can’t even make, after 14 days, their strongest argument in simple language. Namely, despite a $100 million investigation, the government produced not a document, text, or witness providing direct evidence of a corrupt deal between the former governor and the government’s key witness.
Even Williams, the lynchpin, didn’t make such a claim, only saying his motivation – a quid-pro-quo arrangement – should have been self-evident. But what if lied and told McDonnell the opposite?
As Tom Cruise’s character also famously observed, it isn’t about the truth, but rather what you can prove. The indictment never says precisely when the required “deal” was cut. So, was there, de jure, a corrupt deal or not between the two men (Mrs. McDonnell’s guilt on corruption is derivative) beyond a reasonable doubt? Without it, the 11 corruption counts fail as a matter of law.
Sherlock Holmes gives Bob McDonnell hope in a famous observation about circumstantial evidence.
"I could hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked. "If ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so here."
"Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing…”
Will this prove true here after the defense presents its side of the story?