As character witness after character witness approached the witness stand, federal prosecutors sat and listened but made no move to cross-examine … until former Governor Doug Wilder stepped up to defend his old friend. Rosalind S. Helderman and Matthew Zapotosky with the Washington Post wrote what happened in the courtroom that caused the pro-McDonnell crowd to explode in applause when he brought up the man who got blanket immunity from the federal government:
L. Douglas Wilder, a fraternity brother of the former governor and a former Virginia governor himself, told the judge that if not for this case, McDonnell would be on the shortlist for the presidential nomination.
“Without question,” Wilder said.
“He’s been punished. He’s been punished indelibly,” Wilder said, noting that those lofty aspirations have been dashed. “There is no magic wand that can take away the taint from what his reputation was.”
The Democratic former governor said McDonnell would have been known as one of Virginia’s best governors.
“I found him to be of his word,” Wilder said. “If he told you something, you could go to sleep on it.”
After letting witness after witness go without challenge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry stood to cross-examine former Virginia governor Doug Wilder.
Isn’t it true that all public officials who accept bribes are stigmatized, as Wilder had said McDonnell has been, Dry asked.
“Yes, sir,” Wilder said.
Isn’t it true that there’s a problem in America with cynicism toward the political process?
And that when elected officials accept bribes, they deepen that cynicism?
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I would agree with you, so much so that it’s dangerous.”
Wilder plowed on: In this case, the public also sees something else. He said they see that the “progenitor of the bribe” — that is, businessman Jonnie Williams — “walks away clear.”
Williams was given immunity from all prosecution in exchange for testimony against McDonnell.
The courtroom, packed with McDonnell’s supporters, erupted in applause.