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.
According to the indictment, the total sum of money allegedly going directly to former governor Bob McDonnell is $3,824 in “greens fees, caddie fees, merchandise, and dining expenses at Kinloch [Williams’] Golf Club” (Counts 6 and 7). As Bugs Bunny would say, “That’s All Folks!” The infamous Rolex watch is not cited in any of the indictment’s 14 alleged crimes. The same for the vacations, plane trips and Ferrari rides cited by the government as evidence of a corrupt deal.
Jonnie Williams, the government’s chief witness against the McDonnells, started his Star Scientific, Inc. with a now proven bogus claim: it had a commercially viable, allegedly safer cigarette. Not so, but he still personally profited by many tens of millions of dollars.
Having now been exposed, the company has a different name, operates in a different state (Florida) and is betting on a different scam. He claims Anatabloc, the commercial name for the product at the heart of this corruption prosecution, is the most important discovery since penicillin. The Food and Drug Administration has – surprise! – a different view. The FDA warned Mr. Williams and others about making bogus claims for this product. The company recently pulled it from the market until it could educate the FDA. Good luck with that!
Roughly $12,000,000 is apparently the amount of money involved in at least one potentially fraudulent Star stock transaction by Mr. Williams then under federal grand jury investigation when “pangs from a guilty conscience” caused him to help prosecutors indict the McDonnells. Williams had been on the federal stock scam radar since the 1980s without any prior “pangs.” Indeed, he had previously told investigators McDonnell had no clue as to his true motive!
The government likewise claims the “get out of a jail free card” immunity deal covering stock scams and other crimes given to their star witness had nothing to do with reversing his testimony. Williams actually hedged on the witness stand, only willing to say McDonnell “should have realized” the conman’s corrupt motive for giving the $177,000 in cash, gifts and loans.
When asked what he had received in return, Williams couldn’t name the usual bad stuff attending federal corruption cases: a no-bid state contract, the special license, or any action giving him significant public monies. Neither could the prosecutors despite a massive two-year investigation covering 3.5 million documents, 500 interviews, and a five-week trial!
The prosecution therefore revolved around the type of things all governor’s do for big donors, political allies and friends; namely promoting their businesses with state officials as good for Virginia. Except for a Mansion lunch arranged by Maureen McDonnell to showcase Anatabloc, the prosecution’s case has nothing even remotely approaching scandalous.
As for Williams’ loot, Mrs. McDonnell took credit for convincing Jonnie to provide the overwhelming bulk of it without ever consulting her husband! As a non-public official, she isn’t directly covered by the corruption statutes. The only Williams loan first requested by the governor is the $20,000 given to his real estate company and used as the basis for Count 11.
There it is: $3,824 for family golf time and a $20,000 business loan in terms of the McDonnells' alleged direct corruption. Admittedly he didn’t reject the other goodies.
Earlier this year, I wrote a column in the state’s biggest paper calling for immediate reform to our “pay to play” political culture. The prosecution’s case against former Governor McDonnell is a damning indictment of this culture.
As a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, I could say I told you so about a Republican governor.
But what needs saying is this: My government had no business giving Jonnie Williams a “get out of jail free card” as the price for prosecuting the McDonnells.
It is disproportionate, and threatens public confidence in those leading the Department of Justice. I don’t blame the prosecutors led by the very talented Mr. Dry. They fight for us every day. We are lucky to have them, but Attorney General Eric Holder and his posse needed to say no.
The prosecutors are right, some things are too coincidental to be a coincidence. I am not so naïve as to be completely fooled by Mr. McDonnell’s Sgt. Schultz “I know nothing!” defense.
But the test is proof behind a reasonable doubt. To the extent this requires accepting Jonnie Williams’ testimony. I couldn’t do it.
Judge Blackstone is right, better 10 guilty persons goes free than one innocent individual go to jail.