Guilty Verdicts For Former Gov. McDonnell And Wife In Corruption Trial

Sep 4, 2014
Originally published on September 4, 2014 4:51 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A devastating day of judgment today for Virginia's former Governor Robert McDonnell. A federal jury in a Richmond courtroom found him guilty on all 11 charges of conspiracy and public corruption he faced. Mcdonnell's wife was also convicted on eight of those charges and an additional charge of obstructing a grand jury investigation.

The charges stemmed from a relationship the McDonnells had over the years with Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams, who provided them with lavish gifts as he was promoting his dietary supplement business. And NPR senior correspondent Ron Elving joins me to talk more about this verdict. It looks to be a nightmare scenario, Ron, for a once rising political star in Virginia who had major national aspirations.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: It's hard to overstate the terribly disappointing impact of these verdicts today for the McDonnells and their family and supporters. Many of them were in the courtroom today - wept openly as the verdicts were read. Many had come to court today expecting at least a legal vindication for Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. And we should say there were 26 verdicts in all. Twenty of them were guilty. Six were not guilt. But it was a brutal day for a man who many political observers thought would someday be on the Republican presidential ticket - maybe as a vice presidential running mate and maybe as a presidential nominee himself.

BLOCK: And Ron, this trial had gone on for weeks. The former Governor, Robert McDonnell, was on the stand for more than 20 hours. Lots of evidence presented to this jury - photographs, Rolex watches, all kinds of stuff.

ELVING: Yes, Oscar de la Renta gowns, purses - the essence was that the McDonnells had been receiving loans and gifts totaling $165,000 in value from Williams, who had been a backer of McDonnell's and a friend - a social friend. He was an entrepreneur with a company called Star Scientific, Incorporated - manufacturing dietary supplements. And he was eager to be close the governor and the governor's office and to move in certain circles of power in Richmond and elsewhere.

And well, as the investigation developed, he became a witness for the government, testifying to how he had showered the McDonnells with these gifts, including parties and designer clothing and so on and some of the things that he had hoped they might do for him.

BLOCK: Well, with so many convictions on so many charges, the McDonnells could be looking at lengthy jail terms.

ELVING: The maximum either would serve on these convictions would appear to be 30 years - that is if these verdicts withstand any appeal and the judge chooses to impose such a sentence. At this point, that would seem far-fetched. It would be more likely that if they do serve time, it would be a fraction of that length of time.

BLOCK: Yeah. Let's talk a bit about the apparent defense strategy in this case, Ron, which seemed to be pretty much throw the wife under the bus.

ELVING: Well, some people have called it the bad-marriage defense. The McDonnells testified that they could not have conspired to accept illegal gifts or to provide anything in return because they were so estranged at that point that in their relationship did not - well, they weren't even speaking to each other.

Now the defense strategy was to portray Maureen McDonnell as having said that they well - well, they called it a crush that she had on Jonnie Williams and implied that only she was really receiving these gifts. And so she was not a public official, so she could not be officially corrupted. And their hope was that if they could convince the jury there was no real harm being done - no real crime - then the governor would be found not guilty as well.

BLOCK: Well, the McDonnells' defense attorneys have said they will appeal. What happens now?

ELVING: The judge today set sentencing for January 6 - 4 months from now. At that point, the prosecution will ask for what it considers an appropriate sentence. In terms of years, the defense will ask for leniency. The judge will consider the full records of these two people - these two individuals - and then set the penalties. And if there is to be an appeal as we do expect there will be, that appeal will begin at the point of sentencing.

BLOCK: Worth mentioning briefly, Ron, that the McDonnells were offered a chance to plead guilty - didn't take it.

ELVING: Did not take it - they were offered that in 2013. He was offered a chance to plead guilty to one count and she would not have been charged at all. They turned that deal down.

BLOCK: OK. NPR senior correspondent Ron Elving. Again, the news that Robert McDonnell, former Governor of Virginia, and his wife - both convicted today on corruption charges. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.