[Editor’s note: This letter to the editor appeared in the Progress-Index on December 31, 2014.]
As the sentencing date for former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction on corruption charges approaches, one wonders “Did Gov. McDonnell receive a fair trial?” Consider:
During the Fourth of July weekend in 2013, a rumor surfaced that McDonnell was about to plead guilty and resign from office. Due to the holiday weekend, the rumor received wide publicity before it could be discredited. McDonnell’s image was severely tarnished and there were several calls for his resignation.
In December 2013, the offer of a plea deal was made public. If McDonnell would plead guilty to a bank fraud charge, both he and his wife could avoid prosecution on corruption charges. This offer being made public gave the appearance of guilt and thus finished the destruction of McDonnell’s image. This happened even though there wasn’t a single report in the media of any illegal action by the governor, no report of any improper act, and even no report of any questionable act. This always happens when an innocent person is falsely accused. The media only reports the accusations because that is all there is to report. The public just doesn’t realize that when the media fails to provide evidence of guilt, that is proof of innocence!
The whole idea of this plea deal, especially it being made public, seems wrong. Isn’t offering a deal prior to filing charges and prior to showing McDonnell the evidence against him a violation of McDonnell’s right to face his accuser and the charges against him? Isn’t it also an unfair presumption of guilt? Shouldn’t a plea offer/deal be kept totally private unless it is accepted and then only made public in a court of law? For justice to be served, shouldn’t a governor and his wife who are guilty of corruption both serve some serious prison time? The plea deal offer implied that, if accepted, the prosecution would not present evidence of corruption to the grand jury. Is it ever proper to not present evidence of corruption to a grand jury? This plea deal seems more like an attack on .McDonnell than justice!
Consider this deal from McDonnell’s viewpoint. He knows that he is not guilty of anything illegal in the performance of his duties as governor. McDonnell also knows that he is not guilty of the bank fraud charge. (Nine months later a jury agreed.) The threat of facing corruption charges and years of jail time must have seemed intimidating – almost like blackmail! How do you even deal with such false accusations and with threats?
On Jan. 24, 2014, many newspapers reported “Gov. McDonnell nixes plea deal; Indicted on corruption charges.” I have never heard of another time when an indictment was reported at the same time as the rejection of a plea deal. This headline screams guilty. This left no doubt of guilt in the court of public opinion and totally destroyed Gov. McDonnell’s image. The jury pool was now permanently tainted, eliminating the possibility of a fair trial.
Even the grand jury believed that receiving gifts was proof of corruption. If this had been a normal corruption case, McDonnell would have been charged with illegal or improper acts while acting in his official capacity as governor. Jonnie Williams would have been charged with giving gifts/bribes to Gov. McDonnell and his family. Instead, we have Gov. McDonnell and his wife charged with receiving gifts and Jonnie Williams granted immunity. Why is McDonnell being charged with the crimes committed by Jonnie Williams? When did receiving gifts become illegal? Isn’t a gift just a gift until an action by the recipient turns the gift into a bribe? If Gov. McDonnell did not know that a gift was intended as a bribe, and did nothing to convert a gift into a bribe, where is the crime? Besides, when the first gift turned into a bribe, Jonnie Williams would have gotten what he wanted and the gifts would have stopped.
The McDonnells received $177,000 in gifts. Compare this to the Clintons. Back in 1999 when the Clintons were trying to buy a house in New York state so that Hillary could run for senator from New York, Terry McAuliffe put up $1.35 million cash as collateral for the loan, but the Clintons were not charged with corruption. In 2013, when McAuliffe ran for governor, both Clintons made campaign appearances which probably accounted for the margin of victory. Still, no one accused the Clintons of corruption. The difference? Accusers pointed fingers at McDonnell to save themselves!
Even the jurors focused on the gifts as proof of corruption. After the trial, one juror even stated, “Yep. he took the gifts, he’s guilty.” This bias guaranteed a conviction.
It’s time the McDonnells received justice.
James N. Bridgeman