Gov. Bob McDonnell is a man under siege.
Each day is another in a seamless stretch of ethical horrors. He talks the talk of a man of conviction, but walks the walk of one whose inner compass is shattered.
The latest revelation in a series of them appeared in Wednesday’s editions of The Washington Post: Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams last year gave $70,000 to a company owned by the governor and his sister, and McDonnell did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, sources told the newspaper. Williams also gave a $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, the sources said. That also was not disclosed.
This follows a trail of money flowing from Williams to McDonnell and his family — money for catering at a wedding reception for the governor’s daughter, a Rolex watch purchased for him at his wife’s request and checks to her, all of it adding up to $145,000, The Post said.
Federal and state authorities are investigating.
McDonnell can’t get out of the way of his ethical lapses. His defenses hold water like a sieve. He takes cover under loopholes, saying he’s not required to disclose gifts to family, an end-around that McDonnell cannot himself believe. Williams is the lone buyer of what the governor sells.
Much of this has occurred on center stage during a summer that was supposed to have belonged to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a better man who stands in the shadows, cast there by a party that failed him and failed Virginia.
Undercut by state GOP leaders whose political IQ’s can only be measured in minuses, Bolling was thrown to the side by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a man with more baggage than Samsonite.
Rather than hold a primary to allow voters to select the next Republican candidate for governor, party string-pullers conducted the rough equivalent of a meeting in a smoke-filled room, holding a convention to hand Cuccinelli the nomination.
Bolling could have taken his shot in 2009 — surely, he wishes now that he had — but he agreed to stand aside to unify the party, paving the path to McDonnell’s sweeping victory. The idea was that Bolling would wait his turn until 2013.
Then along came Cuccinelli. One wonders how strongly the capital’s most powerful Republican stood for the friend who helped him win election. There are apparent prices to be paid for McDonnell’s friendship. Williams is Exhibit A, evidently.
That has stirred rumblings about McDonnell’s possible early departure from Richmond. A conservative blogger claimed over the weekend that two sources told him the governor was preparing to resign in a plea deal to avoid ethics charges. McDonnell’s staff quickly denied the rumor.
It’s a sign of how deep the governor is in his own mess. Were he to be forced out, moving Bolling into the mansion, Virginia would be served in the interim by a leader superior to the alternatives being offered up for the fall. Perhaps Bolling might gain fuel enough for a write-in run.
That might be a dream, but it is far pleasanter than the nightmare now being lived out in the state’s highest office.