‘Court of public opinion’ swings to Bob McDonnell’s favor

Bob McDonnell 11By Lynn R. Mitchell

As the trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and wife Maureen goes to the jury, my prayer is that the Governor is cleared of all charges and can try to resume and pick up the pieces of his life including his reputation.

Interestingly, as the weeks have dragged on with this trial, a number of Democratic friends have purposely sought me out to say they don’t think any quid pro quo was proven or that the governor did anything illegal, and they feel badly for him and his family because of all the sordid personal details that have been exposed.

On the other hand, some conservatives who turned on Governor McDonnell when he worked with the General Assembly to pass the transportation bill in 2013 have been less than gracious about the McDonnells’ misfortune.

But an interesting conversation around the lunch table at my house last week shone a light on what some in the “court of public opinion” are thinking — and it’s in favor of Bob McDonnell.

My Richmond sister and cousins were visiting the Valley for a few days, and the subject of the trial came up. One of my cousins looked across the table at me and said, “You’re in politics. What do you think about our former governor?”

I stared at her. Was this a trick question? Both cousins — sisters — grew up in the Democratic persuasion. So I asked for clarification. “Anything specific you’re wondering about?” I asked.

“The trial and the accusations,” she responded.

I thought a moment, and then began to talk a bit about the charges including that no quid pro quo had been shown, in my opinion … and finally  I just blurted out, “I don’t think he did anything illegal!”

I expected a sharp response from my cousins indicating he had to be guilty followed by their reasons why. But to my surprise, one of them immediately responded, “I agree. I don’t think any of it is fair. They are going after him for no reason.” She was quickly backed up by her sister who agreed.

I sat back in my chair, surprised at that response, and proclaimed, “You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not kidding,” she said, firmly.

We then launched into a full-blown, in-depth discussion about Jonnie Williams (they think he’s an out-and-out crook), Mrs. McDonnell (I won’t pile on but they did not have favorable things to say), what they considered an unfair column the previous Sunday by political reporter Jeff Schapiro in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the federal prosecutors (on a witch hunt), the coincidence of three top Republicans having been charged or looked at by federal prosecutors — Governor McDonnell, Governor Chris Christie, and Governor Rick Perry — and then concluded that Governor McDonnell was innocent and they really felt badly for what he has had to endure.

Well, color me shocked, surprised … and relieved.

One cousin specifically mentioned the Schapiro column that was negative toward Governor McDonnell, shook her head, and noted, “I’m tired of the piling on. I don’t agree with him [Schapiro].”

We talked for probably a good 45 minutes to an hour, and their words were encouraging to me because if they could see the unfairness of what was going on in Richmond, I was hopeful the jurors would, too.

The media has been especially lacking in two areas: 1) exposing Jonnie Williams for who he really is and why he threw the McDonnells under the bus to save his hide; and, 2) researching and publishing the gifts and vacations/trips of previous governors and other public servants.

As far as helping a Virginia business … anybody remember “Bob’s for Jobs”?

I have friends who own a vineyard in Augusta County. Behind the counter of their downtown Staunton tasting room hangs a picture of the two of them with Governor McDonnell, circa 2013. Their wines were winners in the Virginia wine industry and they were invited to the Executive Mansion along with others to commemorate that achievement. Should the Governor be indicted for helping promote wine? This scenario is probably a poor example but the bottom line is Governor McDonnell made it a highlight of his administration to promote Virginia. For more examples of his help with Virginia businesses and industries as well as other governors during their administrations, be sure to read Barton Hinkle’s article.

Just this morning in a press conference at the capitol in Richmond, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who succeeded McDonnell, touted a $5 billion natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. If the federal government were to follow the McDonnell template, will McAuliffe be slapped with quid pro quo charges regarding Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources?

Our lunch table discussion last week with the cousins, and the follow-up comments throughout their visit, made me hopeful that all the pre-judging, the negative media reports, and the rumor-mongering that have dominated Richmond political discussions the past year would perhaps be seen for what they were — pre-judging, negative media, rumor-mongering — and it renewed my belief that Virginians still hold firm that in America we are innocent until proven guilty.

Today the jury will receive their instructions — word is there are 70 pages of instructions for them — and then go into deliberations over the fate and future of a politician I have known only to be kind, fair, and a strong, bipartisan, decisive leader. For every day of the five-week trial, I showed support and will continue to do so until it is all over: @BobMcDonnell   #standwithbob   #prayforvictory.

I stand with Bob.

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