McDonnell conviction turns a grave page in Virginia governance

Posted: Sep 04, 2014 4:51 PM
McDonnell conviction turns a grave page in Virginia governance
AP Photo/Steve Helber

CONVICTED: Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and former First Lady Maureen McDonnell could face decades in federal prison for federal corruption charges.

By Kathryn Watson |, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va.— After a dramatic six-week trial, Bob McDonnell, the state’s highest elected official whose integrity nobody could question, was found guilty on 11 of 13 federal corruption charges.

Maureen McDonnell, former first lady and a mother of five, was found guilty on nine of 13 federal corruption charges.

The couple who until the beginning of this year lived in the Executive Mansion, now face potentially decades behind bars for conspiring to use the governor’s official office to favor Jonnie Williams, the wealthy businessman who graced them with more than $170,000 in gifts and loans. Their sentencing is Jan. 6.

McDonnell, who sobbed red-faced as the verdict was read, has said his “trust remains in the Lord.”

McDonnell turned down a plea deal that would have found him guilty on one count of felony bank fraud and would have let his wife off the hook entirely.

“Bob McDonnell gambled on his political charm … and lost,” Richard Kelsey, assistant dean at George Mason University School of Law said in a statement. “He turned down a single plea agreement, and today was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and corruption.  He becomes the first Virginia governor convicted of a felony.”

Current Gov. Terry McAuliffe was among the first to issue a statement.

“I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

McAuliffe gutted some ethics reforms in the latest General Assembly session, claiming they were too weak. He imposed a $100 gift ban on him and members of his family. That ban is set to expire in January if he doesn’t renew it.

But McAuliffe points to one inevitable reality. The conviction destroys confidence in the “Virginia Way” philosophy that Virginia politics and politicians are honest and upright.

“We have a long way to go to restore the public’s trust after this embarrassing and difficult period for the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. 

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.