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.
Gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell ran as the “family values” candidate with a set of rigid moral principles using his wife to make a compelling case. It propelled him to an historic landslide.
But now, he admits the image to be a political façade. In truth, he was really a man who relied on situational ethics to justify whatever seemed politically or personally convenient at the time. In other words, he got elected as a fraud and now claims his need to maintain that fraud helps explain away charges of public corruption.
Simply put: Former governor McDonnell says his marriage meltdown is a defense to an ethical breakdown.
Of course, this isn’t true. He knows it. His defense team knows it. The jury knows it. The judge know it. And you, the reader, know it.
However he is not on trial for being a political fraud, a bad husband, or a typical politician who preaches “personal responsibility” to you, but blames others for all his or her problems. He isn’t on trial for savaging his wife to save his own skin.
Let's keep the truth in mind. It is the government of the United States of America which dragged him into Judge Spencer’s courtroom.
As a famous judge observed, a government prosecutor can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” All it takes is probable cause, far, far less than required to get a conviction in Judge Spencer’s courtroom.
The prosecution spent two years pursuing this case. By their own admission, they have not found (1) a shred of direct evidence to prove the former Governor and accuser Jonnie Williams had an illegal deal. Even Mr. Williams himself doesn’t claim he had a direct deal with McDonnell. All the government’s chief accuser – who first swore he had no deal with the former governor and then conveniently changed his mind after prosecutors gave him immunity from who knows how many possible federal crimes – claims is that the former governor should have known the $177,000 in cash, gifts and loans came with strings attached.
In other words, this is a purely circumstantial case, presented in a brilliantly persuasive manner by the prosecution using the seductive mantra “some things are too coincidental to be a coincidence.”
I don’t doubt for a moment the government’s sincere belief in the McDonnells being guilty, but under the rules of the legal profession, a prosecutor has a duty to be a “minister of justice.”
Why did federal authorities decide to let Williams go free – he had been on their radar for 30 years for seemingly having bilked investors out of tens of millions of dollars – in exchange for his help in nailing McDonnell at all costs?
But you say: “Paul, a governor is a far bigger fish. It is a trophy conviction and it sends a big political message.” True, but is this blindfolded justice?
It is self-evident the government needed Williams’ testimony – at apparently any cost since the broad scope of his immunity deal has shocked many experienced former prosecutors – to make their case.
Precisely why McDonnell’s lawyers believe his wife, and not Williams, is the bigger obstacle to his being acquitted on corruption charges is not clear to me, but they have presumably tried out various defense strategies in mock juries or focus groups.
However one agrees or disagrees with their defense strategy misses the central point of the whole situation: Is justice being served in the McDonnell trial?
The unseemly defense strategy is only necessary because he has been put on trial. Should the federal government have spent all this time and resources going after him and his wife? This isn’t to excuse their conduct, but it is a fair question given the evidence to date, since unlike almost every other corruption case the defendant gave no public money, no job, no contract and no license, that is to say, did none of the “official acts” normally associated with landing in prison.
Is this an unwarranted prosecution all other things being equal? This latter point is not yet clear to me but the fact we are in Day 20 and it still remains very bothersome.