Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell Convicted On Corruption Charges

A once rising GOP star hits bottom.

Bob McDonnell Maureen McDonnell

Former Governor Bob McDonnell, whose 2009 victory in the Virginia Governor’s race came as a surprise to many given the GOP’s problems in the state just a year earlier and who went on to become a rising star in the GOP nationally to the point where he was mentioned as a potential running mate in 2012, has been convicted on a broad series of corruption charges along with his wife Maureen by a Federal Court jury in Richmond:

RICHMOND — A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending a message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans.

After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells’ alleged misdeeds acquitted the couple of several charges pending against them–but nevertheless found that they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.

The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, who was already the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, now holds an even more unwanted distinction: the first ever to be convicted of one. He and his wife face decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that.

The moment the first guilty verdict was read, Bob McDonnell closed his eyes tightly, shaking in his seat as he wept.

Maureen McDonnell seemed to cry, too, though with her back to the courtroom, her tears were less obvious. At the eighth guilty count, Bob McDonnell buried his face in his hands. By the end, he was slumped in his chair, still crying.

The former governor did not look up as jurors were polled, each answering “yes” in turn to affirm their verdict. One juror appeared to be upset, and fidgeted in her seat.

The former governor was convicted of 11 corruption-related counts pending against him, though acquitted of lying on loan documents. The former first lady was convicted of eight corruption-related charges, along with obstruction of justice. Maureen McDonnell was acquitted of lying on a loan document.

The jury’s verdict brings to a close a trial that seemed to grip the nationsince it began in July with the shocking revelation by defense attorneys that the McDonnells’ marriage was shattered, and that would be a core element of their attempt to beat the charges. The proceedings that followed over the next five weeks at times resembled a soap opera, as the McDonnells endured a humiliating dissection of their relationship amid unflattering allegations about the lavish lifestyle supplied by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.paid for them to lead.

Jurors heard from 67 witnesses, including Williams and the former governor himself, who took the stand in his own defense for nearly 24 hours over several days. They saw memorable photos of McDonnell flashing a Rolex watch and riding in a Ferrari, and they heard sometimes tearful testimony from the governor’s own children and former staffers. They were shown mortgage applications, phone records, more charts than they probably care to remember — all designed to convince them that the governor and his wife conspired to take bribes from Williams, or that they did not.

The case had more nuanced, legal questions, too: namely, did the governor and his wife perform or promise to perform so-called “official acts” for Williams in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans? Prosecutors argued they did. Those acts, they said, came in the form of meetings that McDonnell arranged for Williams with state officials, a luncheon Williams was allowed to throw at the governor’s mansion to help launch a product he was trying to sell, and a guest list Williams was allowed to shape at another mansion reception meant for health-care leaders.

Defense attorneys argued otherwise, saying there was no evidence the governor even knew what Williams wanted. And what he did want — state funded studies of his product, Anatabloc — he never got, defense attorneys stressed.

Prosecutors put on a compelling case, showing jurors several instances in which gifts and loans were provided in close proximity to the McDonnells’ efforts to assist Williams and his company. But defense attorneys noted, accurately, that even Williams himself did not describe an explicit, corrupt bargain he had with the governor. And they noted that Williams was testifying with generous immunity agreements, which they said motivated him to lie about his relationship with the McDonnells.

In addition to the fact that McDonnell is now the first Governor in Virginia history to be convicted of corruption charges for acts that occurred while he was in office, this trial will likely also be remembered for the rather unique defense that McDonnell and his wife both decided to put on before the jury. As I recounted when the trial opened, the defense essentially involved dragging all of the dirty laundry between Bob and Maureen McDonnell before the jury and arguing that, notwithstanding the public face that they put on during the Governor’s time in office, the two of them were so estranged during the time these alleged acts were committed that they could not have possibly conspired together. For his part, McDonnell alleged that his wife was infatuated with Johnnie Williams, the Virginia businessman who was at the center of the case and who gave both McDonnell’s tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and cash throughout the time he new each other. For his part, Williams, who was a cooperating witness with the U.S. Attorney and is unlikely to ever be charged in this matter, testified that as far as he was concerned his gifts to the McDonnell’s, which included everything from a shopping spree in New York to covering the majority of the cost of the McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding, was solely for the purpose of advancing the interests of his company. When it came time for the defense to put on its case, it was more like a soap opera that a criminal trial, with the former Governor spending several days on the stand detailing the intimate details of his marriage, which apparently wasn’t in very good shape even when he was running for Governor in 2009, and throwing his wife under the bus. Mrs. McDonnell didn’t testify, but the basic message of her defense appeared to be that she was to wrapped up in her collapsing marriage to have any ability to conspire with her estranged husband. In the end, obviously, the jury didn’t think much of that defense.

The McDonnell’s will be sentenced on January 6th, and potentially face decades in prison, although it’s likely that they will actually be sentenced to something less than that once the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are applied. Even after that point, though, it’s likely that these verdicts will be appealed. Among the many issues that are likely to be the subject of such an appeal are the Jury Instructions that were given to the jury before deliberations began on Tuesday. By some accounts, the Judge drafted instructions that were so broad in their definition of what kind of act could constitute “honest services wire fraud” that it made virtually anything a politician would do on behalf of a donor or constituent into a potential criminal act. Additionally, there’s the rather interesting question of how it is that McDonnell could be found guilty of doing things that were not at all guilty under Virginia law, an important question given the fact that the indictment that was originally filed in this case essentially made the case out that the McDonnell’s violating Federal law by conspiring to defraud Virginia voters. If what he was doing was legal under Virginia law, then one wonders how it could be the basis for a Federal lawsuit. Those are legal issues that will have to be resolved at another time, though. Even if the verdicts are overturned on appeal and a new trial is ordered, which is not an easy thing to accomplish in Federal Court, the fact of McDonnell’s conviction and his fall from grace will stand. For someone who seemed like he could have been one of the rising stars of the GOP just a few years ago, it was quite a fall indeed.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I only feel for their daughters. My sons’ mother is in prison, and it is not easy for them.

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    “Hillary set us up..”

  3. edmondo says:

    They should have called them “campaign contributions” and everything would have been perfectly legal.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    We can just be glad that he never made it anywhere near the White House. Dumb as a stick – $165,000 for several years in prison?

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    @Ron Beasley: That´s the same thing that I thought. That was spare change, that was completely petty. I don´t know if that´s because I´m used to Brazilian politicians, but that was completely petty.

  6. Just 'nutha' Ig'rant Cracker says:

    @Andre Kenji: In Korea recently, an aide to a National Assembly member was conviced of being the bag man in a bribery scandal where 24 Assembly members were bribed to the tune of 120 million won total.

    The current exchange rate is about 1020 won per US dollar, so for less than $500 US each, 24 Korean politicians were bribed.

    THAT’S spare change. By Korean standards $165,000 would be an astronomical bribe. Not even Samsung would have a bribery pool that large.

  7. Daniel Sachs says:

    I am very disappointed with your legal analysis, Doug.

    “There’s the rather interesting question of how it is that McDonnell could be found guilty of doing things that were not at all guilty under Virginia law, an important question given the fact that the indictment that was originally filed in this case essentially made the case out that the McDonnell’s violating Federal law by conspiring to defraud Virginia voters. If what he was doing was legal under Virginia law, then one wonders how it could be the basis for a Federal lawsuit. ”

    When did federal law become subservient to state law? Don’t you remember discussion about the supremacy clause in our Con-Law class? One of the strength of a federal system is that certain acts are criminal on the state level, but permissible on the federal level, and visa versa.

    The McDonnell’s best argument on appeal in is the refusal to separate the defendants as well as the overly broad definition of “official act” that you identified.

  8. EddieInCA says:

    It was short sighted a stupid.

    Do your six years as Governor. Then move into a highly paid lobbyist job that pays you $3-$4 million per year. As an example, see Cantor, Eric.

    McDonnell, as a former Gov of Virginia could have made millions. But, the fact is that he, and his wife, were too f**king stupid and greedy and impatient to wait for the payoff.

    Idiots. They get what they deserve.

  9. Tyrell says:

    I don’t understand how this Williams gets off with nothing. How is different from all the stuff from lobbyists? Sounds like the whole thing is political. He made someone mad and they decided to get him.

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ Ig’rant Cracker: Brazil is a completely different league… 🙂

  11. grumpy realist says:

    I guess that Rolex just magically appeared on his wrist by itself?

  12. C. Clavin says:

    Let’s all remember…McConnell was a rising Republican star…spoken of as a VP candidate for Romney…and a Presidential Candidate himself someday. He gave the GOP’s State of the Union reply in 2010. The trans-vaginal ultrasound made him a hero to the anti-choice right.
    But he really, really, really wanted to go for a ride in that Ferrari.
    And when he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar…he promptly threw his wife under the bus to try and save his own arse.
    That my friends…is Republican party leadership.

  13. PJ says:


    I don’t understand how this Williams gets off with nothing. How is different from all the stuff from lobbyists? Sounds like the whole thing is political. He made someone mad and they decided to get him.

    McDonnell is, rightfully, the bigger fish, so Williams was offered immunity if he testified against him.

  14. Pinky says:

    We need to drop this myth that Virginia is a gateway to the presidency. The press talks about Virginia’s governor and senators as possible running mates, but it never happens. Look it up. Since 1856, the beginning of the Democratic versus Republican two-party era, there have been no presidential or vice-presidential candidates from Virginia. So why do we talk about it? Because there were several Founding Fathers from Virginia, because it’s a swing state, and because it holds its gubernatorial election in the off-year after the presidential election. Interesting to note that NJ also holds its election that year, and its office-holders also get talked about as presidential or vice-presidential candidates (even though the last time that happened was 96 year ago).

  15. Tyrell says:

    Why is accepting a gift illegal ?

  16. Pinky says:

    @Tyrell: It’s illegal for a public official to accept a gift in exchange for official favoritism. In many cases, it’s illegal if there’s a chance or an appearance of favoritism. I haven’t followed the case at all, but it looks like the prosecution cited specific examples of favoritism, a quid pro quo, while the defense claimed that the governor just happened to help out the business of someone who had given him gifts.

  17. Eric Florack says:

    I have no particular dog in this hunt. Far too big government, he is, for my liking. That said, Given the opposition in that state largely Clintonian, they of the play for pay game, he should have known

    (Hillary;I? Play for pay? Oh, yea…. read……….. )
    Which leads to the question, is anyone watching McCauliffe as vigorously? Again, given the Clinton connection, they should be. Sadly, I doubt they are.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tyrell: Because gifts are an euphemism for bribery.

  19. Tyrell says:

    I certainly don’t think things like this deserve any prison time. A fine perhaps would be more appropriate. No book ot tv deals for 5 years, some form of community service, and can’t run for any elected office above that of dog catcher or sidewalk gum remover. Our prisons have too many non-violent criminals: shoplifters, pickpockets, safe crackers, cat burglars, drug possession, parking violators, and people who owe fines. A while back during one of Chicago’s weekend shooting sprees, one of the hoodlums who was caught had a prior record of 21 violent offenses ! Now what gets you. Why is this creep out roaming the streets searching for more innocent victims ? Some soft on crime judge needs to be held accountable !

  20. anjin-san says:

    I certainly don’t think things like this deserve any prison time.

    Right. Let’s reserve that for people who smoke a joint or a kid in the ghetto who steals $100.

  21. Neil Hudelson says:


    …what era do you live in? Cat burglers and pickpockets?

  22. argon says:

    Cuccineli remains free for now…

  23. Pinky says:

    @anjin-san: Tyrell specifically mentioned drug possession and petty theft as bad reasons for imprisonment.

  24. Russell Davis says:

    @Daniel Sachs:
    Regarding Bob McDonnell’s fall:

    As much as Federal jurisdiction over Bob McDonnell’s crimes relies on
    18 U.S. Code § 1343 ‘interstate commerce’ or 18 U.S. Code § 1341 ‘s US Mail
    the appeals court may have to declare a mistrial and transfer the retrial to a Virginia court of competent jurisdiction.

    Virginia’s ethics statutes are plenty strong. Our problem is not with our statutes.

    In VA, under VA18.2-111, when a person receives a gift or ANYTHING
    from someone other than their employer that they received by virtue of their holding an office
    belonging to their employer then that thing received belongs to their office not to their person,
    If the receiver converts the ‘gift’ to their personal property then they have, according to VA statute,
    perpetrated embezzlement and larceny.
    Custom does not make it less of a felony –
    Regarding criminal intent: Bob McDonnell knew the law and
    knew that he was deemed to know the law by the law –
    as are ALL officers or the VA Supreme Court (i.e. lawyers).
    Bob McDonnell’s conclusively evidenced in public record root felony
    is a presumption that he is so important that
    “Resisting the execution of the laws under the color of its authority” [VA18.2-481(5) Statutory Treason]
    is his prerogative and is the prerogative of all people of his class.

    The problem is that Virginia’s Judges & Commonwealth Attorneys
    have made grand juries ineffective contrary to duly authorized law.
    No complaint of criminal conduct can be brought to a grand jury by any just MERE citizen.
    That raises the in-crowd above the reach of the law.
    And it turns YOU into a mere chattle ruled by the ‘Uniform Commercial Code’ and mere presumption when ever it is convenient.