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Lawmakers, other officials express shock
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Former first lady Maureen McDonnell (right) and daughter Cailin Young (left) leave the federal courthouse in Richmond on Thursday after the former first lady was found guilty of nine charges in a federal corruption trial. (AP)

Friday, September 5, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Current and former Republican area lawmakers said they were stunned to learn of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction on corruption charges.

A federal jury in Richmond on Thursday convicted the 60-year-old former governor on 11 of 13 counts related to allegations that he used his public office to promote a product in exchange for gifts. His wife, Maureen, was convicted on nine of 13 counts. Their sentencing is set Jan. 6.

McDonnell, a Republican, was governor from 2010 to January of this year. He was the state’s attorney general from 2006 to 2009, and he served in the House of Delegates, representing the 84th District, from 1992 to 2006.

McDonnell’s lawyer said he will appeal the conviction, The Associated Press reported.

“I’m certain there are some legal questions” for which the appellate court will have to find answers, said 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith.

Griffith, R-Salem, described McDonnell as “a longtime friend.” He got to know McDonnell while serving in the state House from 1994 to 2011.

“I was surprised all that (controversy involving McDonnell) was going on,” Griffith said. “I never thought anything like this would (ever) affect Bob.”

Yet “friends make mistakes,” he said, adding that as McDonnell’s friend, “I cannot sit in judgment” of him.

“Bob McDonnell has always been such a good, noble man,” said state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, who took office in 2012.

Based on that perception, Stanley said he disagrees with the jury’s verdict. But as a lawyer, he said he has disagreed with a lot of verdicts over the years.

Still, he respects the judicial system, he and other Republicans said.

Former delegate Don Merricks of Pittsylvania County said he feels “really heartbroken” and “kicked in the gut” about McDonnell’s conviction.

“That’s not the Bob McDonnell I served with” in state government, said Merricks, a Republican who was in the state House from 2008 to 2014.

“You never saw a hint of anything improper” about him, Merricks said. “I have no idea” what happened to change that.

New College Institute Executive Director William Wampler, who was a state senator from 1988 to 2012, said he is “rarely at a loss for words,” but he was on Thursday upon learning of the conviction of his longtime legislative colleague. He said he never thought McDonnell would do something that would prompt him to face criminal charges.

“I think it’s very sad,” Wampler said somberly of McDonnell’s situation, declining further comment.

Griffith and W.C. Fowlkes, chairman of the Henry County Republican Party, echoed that sentiment.

Fowlkes said he has known McDonnell for roughly 10 years, having served with him in the Army Reserve, but their contact was limited because they served in different parts of the state.

He said his perception was that McDonnell “was an up-and-up (moral) individual.”

In general, “I never would have thought that anyone in political life would put themselves” in such a position as McDonnell did, Fowlkes said.

“Something was clouding his vision,” he surmised, declining to speculate on what that might have been.

Although McDonnell’s conviction is “certainly not good for the Republican Party at this point,” Fowlkes said he thinks voters “have the integrity and intelligence” not to judge a party candidate based on another’s actions.

Both Merricks and Fowlkes said they think McDonnell’s conviction should be a wake-up call for lawmakers.

That is especially true for “career politicians,” Merricks said, because over the years, some “tend to forget they’re there to serve” the public’s interests, not their own.

“You’ve got to be vigilant at all times” and do the right thing, he said.

“This has got to be a warning to all politicians .. to be fair and balanced” in all of their doings, Fowlkes added.

Stanley said he feels “heartbroken for the McDonnell family. They’re such good people.”

In emailed statements, former governor and current U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and state House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican representing the Fredericksburg area, also expressed concerns for the family.

“I urge all Virginians to keep the McDonnell family in their prayers,” Warner said in his release.

Howell said McDonnell’s record as governor “speaks for itself” in terms of being an effective leader.

Democratic current state Attorney General Mark Herring said in an emailed statement, though, that “we have a long way to go to restore the public’s trust” in government in the wake of McDonnell’s conviction.

Herring used his statement to tout the “strict gift ban and ethics policy” that he placed on himself, his family and employees of his office.

Under the ban, gifts worth $25 or more, or financial contributions of more than $100, cannot be accepted, the release showed.

“It should be crystal clear,” Herring said, “that the people of Virginia deserve real ethics reform that will turn off the spigot of gifts, tickets and trips that opens the door to abuse and undermines public confidence” in government.

He added that he hopes the General Assembly will implement such bans in all sectors of government.


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