We've all read criminal cases where we think, "How can they be this stupid?" And we've all seen cases where, out of stupidity, carelessness, or desperation, people pile mistakes upon mistakes.
But it's different when the crimes are allegedly carried out by politicians. We expect them to be smarter. Not so much, for former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen.
The McDonnell indictment contains page after page after page of alleged quid-pro-quo. Gifts and loans were allegedly exchanged for access to the Governor's office and promotion of a private company's nutritional supplement.
Plus, all of it came with a paper trail. Checks, gifts, and stocks, transferred directly. The Washington Post also indicates that Johnnie Williams, their benefactor, is now cooperating with the government.
Let's take a look at the alleged specifics from the indictment, shall we?
It started with a common problem: Bob needed a ride. A nice man with a private jet, Johnnie, gave him a lift to Sacramento during his run for governor.
Bob's wife, Maureen, needed a dress for the inauguration. However, after a staffer told her that some people might frown upon businessmen giving her designer dresses, she took a rain check on Williams' generosity. Until she needed a designer dress for her anniversary, and another dress for her daughter's wedding, and a Rolex for Bob, and plane tickets for her daughters to attend a bachelorette party. Allegedly.
Speaking of the wedding, Bob's newfound friend Johnnie also allegedly paid the catering tab, covered multiple trips for Bob's family to play golf at Johnnie's favorite country club, and lent Bob his Ferrari and vacation home. He even rented a boat for Bob and his family to use, even though Johnnie was busy elsewhere.
And then, like a true friend would, the indictment states, Johnnie lent Bob, Maureen, and their family business tens of thousands of dollars. And Johnnie's brother made repairs to Bob's house.
Bob and Maureen also bought stock in Johnnie's company, which she later generously split into brokerage accounts for all of her children. Virginia requires disclosure when an official or his spouse owns $10,000 or more in a single company.
Favors (Allegedly) Granted
By pure coincidence, Bob discovered that Johnnie's nutritional supplements were really swell. The Star Scientific products, which are derived from tobacco, are marketed as anti-smoking and anti-inflammation aids.
Bob was so impressed that he repeatedly set up meetings with Virginia heath officials, hosted a launch party for the company at the Governor's mansion, and made numerous speeches on the drug's behalf. Bob, Maureen, and the rest of his staff repeatedly pushed for funding of studies, done by state universities, on these wonder-drugs.
A Hilarious Sidebar
Want to see a politician peddle drugs, late night infomercial-style?
I'm Bob McDonnell, and I approve this message! pic.twitter.com/QtZLIeVeby-- William Peacock, esq (@PeacockEsq) January 22, 2014
Fourteen counts of honest-services fraud, corruption, and obstruction.
The alleged cover-up was nearly as clumsy as the initial scheme too, with Maureen catching an extra obstruction charge for returning the designer dresses with a handwritten note, which the indictment charges "falsely attempted to make it appear that she and JW had previously agreed that the defendant would return certain designer luxury goods rather than keep them permanently."
Virginia's rules on gift-giving to politicians are notoriously lax (for now), with no limits other than a disclosure requirement for gifts worth more than $50. Gifts to family members, such as the catering bill, don't require disclosure either.
The rules also exempt gifts from a "personal friend", which seems to be Bob McDonnell's take on the arrangement. We'll see how well that works out with his best buddy cooperating with the investigation.