Friday, September 5, 2014

Who's the Worst Man in the World? For His 15 Minutes, It's Bob McDonnell.

Look at these checks! Corruption's cool, isn't it?

I count on Dahlia Lithwick to find the sweet -- or sour -- spot in a legal exercise. She nails it with the Bob McDonnell case:
We may never fully know what led a Virginia jury to find former Gov. Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 counts of federal corruption and his wife, Maureen, guilty of nine counts. The federal investigation, indictment, and trial at first seemed something of an overreach, and right to the end, it seemed like the case might have been difficult to prove to a jury. After the trial ended in such a brisk and crushing verdict, it now seems easy to say the result was inevitable. If it was never perfectly clear that the prosecutors found the quid to the pro quo, well, in the end it didn’t matter. After weeks of trial, the jury seemed to want nothing more than to loofah off the filth and go home.


It’s easy to say that everyone in power is bought and that the McDonnells simply got caught getting bought. But that doesn’t quite capture the horror of what happened here in the commonwealth in the past month. Whatever shame they brought on the office of governor by their dealings with Williams was overshadowed by the shame of their legal strategy. The jurors must have felt unimaginably filthy listening to gruesome tales of a “nutbag” first lady, rebuffed letters from the governor trying to resolve marital spats, and tween-grade text messages to a man Maureen McDonnell was allegedly “obsessed with.” That the former governor knew his career was making his wife wretched and drove on nonetheless is one thing. That he blamed her wretchedness for wrecking his career borders on felony chutzpah.

Maybe the defense strategy that the McDonnells could never have colluded because they didn’t speak was the only defense they had. But that’s their own fault. Prosecutors had offered the former governor a deal that would have had him plead guilty to a single count of fraud and would have spared his wife. The defense on display this month wasn’t the best bad option. It was the worst bad option. And it clearly wasn’t convincing. As Amy Davidson notes, you can be in a miserable marriage and still collude to take cash in exchange for pushing dietary supplements.

As the jurors begin to talk, we may begin to get some insight into why they came down so hard on the former first couple. But one possibility is that you just can’t explain lies with lies. And the McDonnell strategy always seemed to be just that: “We couldn’t have been lying to you about our finances, Virginia, because we were too busy lying to you about everything else. We lied about our marriage for years. We lied about our values and our integrity. We lied about our political and economic convictions. We lied about the centrality of family and marriage to our vision of governance.” In the end, when the jurors were asked to believe one more lie—that the McDonnells’ whole life was an “act” (a lie that may or may not now come true, if the McDonnells’ marriage fails to survive this spectacle) to explain the other lies—it may have been too much to sanction.
We may never know the real shape of the McDonnell marriage, but it hardly matters. What we do know is that whatever Bob McDonnell holds sacred among his core religious beliefs -- he says he places his trust in the Lord -- fidelity, to a spouse or to Virginians, isn't one of them. We don't want to thrust him into the dustbin of history immediately. We'd first like to decorate at least one of its sides with a true picture of his villainy. Then seriously forget the fucker.

The McDonnells during happier times.

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