I posted earlier on the blatant violation of basic conflict of interest principles (not to mention de facto bribery) by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R). Following increased criticism and talk of forcing him to resign, McDonnell announced on his weekly radio show (“Ask the Unethical Governor,” or something like that) that he was returning the many gifts and repaying the loans that came to him and members of his family from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie William.
His comments read like a primer on how to sound like a slippery and dishonest politician, which, it seems clear, he is. Here are some highlights, with my comments in bold:
- “I understand that some choices that have been made have undermined my trust with the citizens.” Uh, who made those “choices,” Governor? You did, along with your wife.
- “My daughter, who just got married, has returned her wedding gift now as well, and it is my intent to work with my counsel to ensure that all remaining gifts that we have are also returned…” The problem is that the ethical violation occurs when the gift is accepted, and giving it back does not, as we say in the law, “unring the bell.” Do thieves who are caught red-handed avoid prosecution because they say, “OK, you got me. I’ll give it all back. We’re square, right?” Wrong.
- “It’s my intention to return everything that I have received from this particular donor because of concerns that have been raised by members of the public, and to do everything I can to restore trust with the people of Virginia.” Translation: “If nobody had kicked up a stink, I’d keep the gifts. I don’t see anything wrong with accepting thousands of dollars in goodies from state business executives and their companies, but some spoil-sports want to be sticklers about it.”
- “Those gifts that I have in my possession I am working with my counsel to be able to return.” And what about those gifts that aren’t still in his possession?
- “I don’t want any citizen to think that these gifts have in any way created undue influence.” Why would they think that? I mean, other than the fact that the Governor’s wife flew to Florida to endorse Williams and his company, and that Virginia’s first couple hosted a luncheon two years ago at the executive mansion in Richmond when Star Scientific unveiled its new, untested, nutritional supplement called Anatabloc.
- “I was not in the role of promoting Star Scientific.” Although, in fact, my wife and I did promote Star Scientific…
- “These are gifts that came to me. I didn’t ask for them.” I believe this was Shoeless Joe’s defense regarding the bribe he got to throw the 1919 World Series. The useful term here is “No, thanks. I don’t accept bribes.”
- “I am first of all on repairing any loss of trust that I have experienced with the citizens.” If McDonnell thinks accepting colorable bribes, not disclosing them, and returning them only after they have erupted into a full-fledged scandal repairs lost trust, he’s not only corrupt, he’s an idiot.
- “I have said I am embarrassed with some of the decisions that have been made by me or my family that have undermined that trust.” Well, that’s something, anyway.
- “I think I have followed the law as it is currently stated.” This has nothing to do with whether he is honest, ethical or trustworthy; it just means there were loopholes to exploit, and he cashed in on them.