Rush Limbaugh used to tell the story of his Father's reaction to the Watergate scandal. As Limbaugh tells the story he and his Father were sitting on the couch watching Nixon’s resignation speech, and when it was over, Limbaugh said his Father turned to him and in a look of great incredulity, exclaimed, “I still don’t know what he did wrong!”
Well, his Father’s reaction sort of sums up my feeling on the McDonnell imbroglio. Yes, I think it was wrong for McDonnell and his wife to mooch off wealthy vitamin salesman Johnnie Williams. However, I don’t think there was any public corruption or evidence of McDonnell selling his office. Such claims are nonsense.
The fact that the Feds were able to convict McDonnell on nothing is scary. The federal government decided to use a federal law known as the honest services statute. The law is openly vague as to its interpretation, and so far the courts have been hostile to broadening the law. The claim McDonnell bent over backwards to help one person at the expense of the rest of the state.
At no point did Johnnie Williams say to McDonnell “I will give you money if you help me.” And at no point did McDonnell say to Williams, “If you give me money I will help you.” But according to the Feds, they did “engage in a corrupt bargain.” Really? Well, if not verbally how did they agree to a corrupt bargain? Perhaps they had a meeting of the minds through osmosis? Maybe a Vulcan like mind meld?
Williams never really thought McDonnell could help him sell vitamins, but a friend in the governor’s mansion could be a good thing to have. So when the Feds came after Williams on another case, Williams had a get out of jail pass.
Williams testimony amounted to the prosecutions entire case. And his tale was not plausible.
If you owned a vitamin business, and had 177,000 dollars to spread around, would you really think the Governor of one state, granted the greatest state, but this one Governor can really help you sell more vitamins?
Consider the following. For the most part vitamins and pharmaceuticals are regulated by the Feds, not the state. In fact the state has little role in such an industry. So the Governor could not provide Williams with regulatory relief.
In addition, as far as I know the state isn't handing out million dollar vitamin contracts. So it is not like the Governor can slip into the budget a big purchase of the company's pills.
So what did Williams think McDonnell could do for him?
See if this makes any sense, he claims he wanted McDonnell to direct a university to do a study of his vitamins, which McDonnell didn't do. A study that would no doubt prove that his vitamins really work. And from there the great publicity would lead to great sales. Ha! This strains credulity to its limits, but lets look at that idea.
What would happen if UVA or VCU did a study of Williams product. Did Williams believe the Governor could guarantee positive results of such a study? What if the results came back inconclusive, or found no benefit. Would he expect the Governor to quash the results of the study? In effect Williams could have paid 177,000 dollars for a study that said his vitamins are worthless, and in that scenario he would have destroyed his business. No way he’d take such as risk. Vitamin companies do studies in house so they can guarantee good results, or at least quash bad results.
Johnnie Williams’s rationale doesn’t make sense. The reality is he sold out McDonnell to save his own skin.
Perhaps McDonnell can win on appeal. He is a good man who made mistakes dealing with Williams, but he is not corrupt, and doesn’t deserve prison.