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.
The government conceded the legal weakness in its case yesterday. I used the word legal advisedly. In terms of morality, ethics and similar concepts of the civic and personal virtue expected from a governor, Bob McDonnell is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. The verdict is the same, too, as regards his role as husband, father, and head of the household for condoning the “my crazy wife made me do it” defense pushed by the former governor’s lawyers.
The public McDonnell – conservative family values, Eagle Scout character, financially above reproach, devout Catholic – has been exposed as a façade. But it only proves what should not have needed proving: McDonnell, like the rest of us, needs to be judged as a real person, not a phony icon.
The same for the prosecution: we don’t have a royal government, but a democratic one. While I believe the prosecution is sincerely convinced of the McDonnells' guilt, they have to prove it in court.
Yesterday, the government revealed, unconsciously as Dr. Freud might say, that they know their case ultimately comes down to circumstantial, not direct evidence. This is not unusual, convictions without direct proof are commonplace.
Why was that clear? The government, despite two solid weeks of presenting their case, still felt compelled on Day 11 to offer more circumstantial evidence about issues already resolved.
The government has already proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that (1) Jonnie Williams gave the McDonnells $150,000-165,000 depending on how you add up certain evidence, that (2) Williams told everyone who wanted to listen that both McDonnells were 200 percent behind his Anatabloc product, that (3) Williams and Star Scientific, Inc. talked to everyone who would listen about trying to get UVA/VCU on board to do an official study of Anatabloc, (4) the former governor’s closest aides were leery ,if not downright mortified, at their boss’ inexplicable relationship with Williams, (5) that researchers/administrators at UVA and VCU had never considered Anatabloc worth studying until they found out the former Governor allegedly seemed interested in such a review and (6) despite the "crazy wife” strategy, it is clear the former governor’s interest in Williams/Anatabloc came from him and no one else.
Enough already. Jerry Kilgore is testifying again, and will point out again how he knew the former governor’s staff wanted Williams out of their boss’ life, not to mention his home. You have proved those points.
Yesterday, they finally started to show evidence on the two non-public corruption charges – alleged bank loan fraud – as was expected. But then went back to more of the same about the 11 corruption charges.
Why? My take: It is what Dr. Freud would call a Freudian slip, legally speaking. The moment they turned away from the corruption charges, the prosecution got nervous, nagged by the unconscious feeling of not having closed the loop, of proving that part of the case.
The prosecution knows the law. It requires the government to show that Williams and the former governor had an understanding. They don’t appear to have direct evidence of this alleged deal. So, they are left with circumstantial evidence. But such evidence alone cannot, by its very nature, show conclusively proof that the Star Scientific, Inc. executive and the former governor had a deal.
Such evidence is vulnerable, as a matter of law, to differing interpretations, leading to conviction or acquittal depending on the juror’s point of view. What Williams says, or what those who talked to Williams say he said about the McDonnells, or what people who claimed to have talked to Williams say he said about the McDonnell’s, isn’t conclusive proof.
It might be in Iraq or Russia or Syria. In those countries, they essentially have these kinds of trials after the hanging. We are more civilized. We like to do the trial first.
The evidence damns the McDonnells badly, but the prosecution knows it ain’t good enough yet to make them confident of winning.