VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox talked with former Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday, four days after the news broke of indictments being dropped in McDonnell’s corruption case.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned McDonnell and his wife Maureen’s 2014 convictions. A federal jury had found the couple guilty of accepting thousands in gifts and loans in exchange for political favors.
“1:45 p.m. last Thursday in this office. I was sitting at my desk and got the call from my attorney … the first two words: ‘It’s over,’ and I said, ‘It’s over?’ I mean, we were honestly very optimistic that that was going to be the word, but that’s what he said, and of course I just let out a howl of rejoicing,” says McDonnell, who met with us in his office at the ESG Companies in Virginia Beach.
McDonnell has a consulting firm with his sister, called The McDonnell Group, and ESG is one of their clients. One project with ESG is the Virginia Beach Arena. McDonnell says they are trying to lure a professional hockey team.
The news was the best McDonnell could hope for. After three and a half years of legal and court battles, it was like the light could be seen from the end of the tunnel of despair.
“It was just such a sense of relief. It was the culmination of all the hope that I had that ultimately because of God’s amazing grace and providence that this would occur,” McDonnell says. “It restored my faith in the justice system.”
McDonnell couldn’t believe a jury found him guilty in the beginning. However, he says he knew in the end, the Supreme Court would correct what he thought was a wrong. McDonnell knows his detractors think he got away with something.
“I know they think that… I think the government prevailed on a false narrative of what happened, and also clearly erroneous law. Eight to nothing, the United States Supreme Court said this is wrong… That setting up meetings for constituents is not criminal.”
It seems so long ago, a happier time for the McDonnell family.
January 2010: McDonnell was sworn in as Virginia’s 71st governor. Fast forward to January 2014, Bob and Maureen McDonnell are indicted on corruption charges.
“Once this happened, especially after the indictment, I didn’t feel like going out, being around my friends. I mean, this is all anybody wanted to talk about,” he says. “After a while, you have enough of it.”
10 On Your Side asked McDonnell if he ever thought he was wrong in taking over $170,000 dollars in gifts, loans and trips from businessman Jonnie Williams.
“Clearly in retrospect, some of the gifts — and I did not know about all of them. As you know the Rolex, some of the gifts to my wife, and other family members I did not know about them — but even of the ones that I did, there came a time when it was just too much,” McDonnell says.
Too much and too late. Federal prosecutors indicted McDonnell and his wife on corruption charges.
“Obviously they wanted me to plead guilty to a felony.”
In December of 2013, in the waning days of his administration, McDonnell says he turned down a plea deal offered by federal prosecutors.
“The government obviously wanted a pound of flesh. I told them from the very beginning, I absolutely will never plead guilty to anything. I will not go into a federal court and say that I did something that I didn’t do,” McDonnell told WAVY’s Andy Fox.
McDonnell could have avoided all the prosecution, the family humiliation, the mounting legal fees which are now well in excess of $10 million. All he had to say was, ‘I’m of a felony.’ He would have to resign from office with less than one month in his term. He refused to do that and now, Bob McDonnell is a free man.
McDonnell says he is not angry, not bitter, but grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court for telling the lower courts they got it wrong.
“It was a false narrative. There was never any quid-pro-quo. There was never a conspiracy (with my wife Maureen). There was never any promise to Jonnie Williams to do things for money. That’s just completely false.”
McDonnell wants people to know he remains married to his wife Maureen.
“We had a great rejoicing together last Thursday after the announcement was made. But you can’t go through something like this for three and a half years, and not have some strains, but now that this is done, we hope that the period of healing and God’s grace will continue.”
There are some who blame Mrs. McDonnell for what happened. McDonnell shot back immediately: “That’s not fair. Maureen should never have been charged. She’s not an elected official. She’s the first lady. Her crime is being married to me.”
As for the future, his office in the ESG offices is bare, with paint cans in the middle of the floor.
“It should be up in two weeks when I move in,” McDonnell said, smiling.
McDonnell is doing volunteer work, working with Operation Blessing, and before he was indicted, there was talk that McDonnell could become the president of Regent University, his alma mater.
“I’ve talked to Pat Robertson a couple of times about having some role over there. I don’t know what that’s going to be.”
McDonnell says he may write a book and says he has no plans to run for public office again. He’s been asked to speak at Liberty University. He’s very popular in the Christian community, and could be a powerful inspirational speaker, telling his story of personal strength and never losing faith.
There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ with Bob McDonnell.
Before this three and a half year detour, he was mentioned to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. Had this not happened, who knows? He could have been the Republican nominee for president.