Good Riddance: Indict Corrupt Politicians
In a 14-count indictment, a federal grand jury charged former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife with corruption. According to Jim Nolan at the Richmond Times Dispatch,
In the first criminal indictment of a Virginia governor in modern times, a federal grand jury Tuesday charged that former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, violated federal corruption laws by using their positions to benefit a wealthy businessman who showered them with thousands in gifts and loans.
The 14-count indictment, obtained by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in Richmond, paints a detailed portrait of how McDonnell and the former first lady accepted more than $135,000 in direct payments as gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr. as they allegedly promoted the struggling company's new product.
According to the indictment, from April 2011 through March, 2013, the McDonnells "participated in a scheme to use the former governor's official position to enrich themselves and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans gifts and other things of value from Star Scientific, a Virginia-based corporation and J.W.," an apparent reference to Williams, then Star's CEO.
"The McDonnells obtained the things of value in exchange for the former governor performing official actions on an as-needed basis to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies," for Anatabloc.
The indictment also alleges that the McDonnells "attempted to conceal the things of value received from J.W. and Star to hide the nature and scope of their dealings with J.W. from the citizens of Virginia, by ... routing things of value from family members and corporate entities controlled by the former governor to avoid annual disclosure requirements."
Tuesday night, a defiant McDonnell made appearance in the lobby of a Richmond law firm accompanied by his wife; their daughter, Cailin Young; and her husband Chris Young.
"I come before you as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused, and whose public service has been wrongfully attacked," McDonnell said in a seven-minute statement aimed at "the people of Virginia."
The former governor apologized again for "my poor judgment" in accepting what he termed "legal gifts and loans" from Williams, but he said, "I repeat again emphatically, I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal friendship and his generosity."
"I never promised or attempted to influence anyone to give Mr. Williams or his company any official state benefits," he said.
McDonnell lashed out at the federal government, saying its "case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory, and that is that facilitating an introduction for a meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift."
I can't say anything specific about the McDonnell case because I don't know the facts, but I can say this: holding politicians accountable for their actions is long overdue. If they violate the law, they should be charged with crimes. If they are found guilty, they should be sent to jail-and I don't mean country club prisons.They should be treated just like everyone else-no better and no worse. Anything else is patently unfair.
The list of potential targets for criminal investigations is long. It includes former Senator Christopher Dodd, former Representative Barney Frank, Senator Harry Reid, Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama to name just a few. There is abundant evidence that they should be investigated for possible criminal activity, and anyone who reads the news, watches the news on television, or listens to the news on radio knows it because it's not a closely guarded secret.
Corruption by government officials undermines the legitimacy of our system. Ordinary citizens have become so disillusioned with government at the local, state, and federal levels that they make jokes about it incessantly. It's gallows humor, and it suggests that they know the truth. Since nothing has been done to address the problem, they think that government is a cesspool-a place where people go when they want to commit crimes with impunity and get rich. By the looks of things, that's exactly what government has become for a large number of our elected and appointed officials.
Among other things, they commit perjury; they exploit privileged information to feather their own nests; they divert our hard-earned tax dollars to pay off friends who help them win elections; they use their political power to press unwarranted criminal cases against their political opponents and others with whom they have differences; and, as I said, they do these things with impunity under the not-so-watchful eyes of the media and local, state, and federal prosecutors. Prosecutors in particular who are suspected or criminal wrongdoing deserve special scrutiny since they are supposed to be vigilant on our behalf.
Under the prevailing conditions, it's no wonder that people are disillusioned, and it's no surprise that our nation is on the slippery slope of moral decay. Criminal behavior by our elected and appointed officials helps to foster and "anything goes" mentality, and that is a prelude to disaster.
It's time to drain the swamp. Again, I can't say anything about the merits of the federal government's case against McDonnell and his wife, but if their indictment is the first of many to come, then I say good riddance. As Thomas Jefferson said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."
Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He served as Policy Advisor for Regulatory Reform for former Virginia Governor Chuck Robb, and his blog SnyderTalk is posted daily.