- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back when his name was floated in presidential election circles, Bob McDonnell kept a room full of evangelical voters riveted as he told the story of a trip he and a friend took to a historical tombstone with the inscription: “Here lies a great politician, and an honest man.”

“How did they get two men in that tiny gravesite?” a grinning McDonnell quoted his friend as asking. The room burst into laughter.

Less than three years later, a disgraced McDonnell stood crying Thursday after a jury in Richmond concluded that he was neither a great politician nor a good man, but rather a felon who abused the office of Virginia governor for personal enrichment.

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The verdict, after a five-week trial, completed the downfall of a once-rising Republican star with a telegenic charm whose apparent struggles with a troubled marriage and indebtedness led him toward a path of corruption. Now he and his wife, Maureen, could face decades in prison.

The former governor, his head in his hands, wept openly with each succeeding finding of guilt. He was ashen as he was mobbed by TV cameras before climbing into a waiting blue Mercedes.

“All I can say is that my trust remains in the Lord,” he said quietly.

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There was little open gloating from political adversaries upon the guilty verdicts on all 11 charges of corruption and conspiracy in connection with accepting more than $170,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for helping a wealthy businessman peddle his products — a nod perhaps to the historic nature of the guilty verdict in a state that prides itself on political geniality.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a sober reaction, forgoing any hint of partisanship.

“I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” the Democratic governor said.

Others highlighted the good times and his standing just several years ago as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a leading national figure for the party.

Gov. McDonnell served Virginia with distinction, leading the commonwealth through challenging times while amassing an impressive record of accomplishments that will endure long beyond his four-year term,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican. “He distinguished himself as a productive and prolific member of the General Assembly and an accomplished attorney general. Ultimately, the ordeal of this trial should not diminish that record.”

Indeed, longtime political observer and former Virginia Commonwealth University professor Bob Holsworth said it was important to remember that McDonnell’s public approval ratings were in the upper echelon of governors across the nation during his single four-year term that ended in January, just days before the 14-count indictment was handed up.

“He was considered as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, and here we are two years later, looking at the first governor who now faces extended jail time,” said Mr. Holsworth, who observed much of the trial from inside the federal courthouse in Richmond.

The charges were the outgrowth of what initially appeared to be an insignificant investigation into a former executive mansion chef, who was fired in early 2012 after he was accused of stealing food from the mansion kitchen. The chef, Todd Schneider, countered by saying he was told to take food as payment for catering events. His counteraccusation exposed the McDonnells’ relationship with Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie R. Williams.

Mr. Holsworth pointed out that it was McDonnell’s judgment — coupled with his steadfast insistence that he did nothing wrong — that led him to reject an apparent deal that would have exonerated his wife and left him with a single guilty plea to a felony count of falsifying a bank document.

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