Bob McDonnell opens up about trial, overturned conviction and family

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- It was early Thursday afternoon, sitting in his Virginia Beach office, that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell heard the words from his attorney that his family had been waiting and praying for. His legal battle was finally over.

"I said, 'it's over?'  I went out into the hallway and people were just so excited," McDonnell said. "Then I just closed the door and wept for a few minutes. Just the emotional release after 43 months of being accused of a crime that I know in my heart I didn't commit."

Four years ago, McDonnell was at the pinnacle of his career.  He was a popular governor, who enjoyed bipartisan support in the General Assembly.  He was also a rising star in the GOP, and considered as a possible Vice Presidential running mate.

But it all came toppling down in February 2013, when the federal government launched a corruption investigation into accusations that the governor and his wife, Maureen, accepted more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from wealthy businessman Johnnie Williams.

 

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Throughout the investigation and trial, the McDonnell's maintained their innocence.

"If I ever thought that setting up a meeting for a donor or asking a donor to attend a reception with 150 other people, if I thought that was going to be a crime, I would have never done it," McDonnell says.  "But I've done it a thousand times."

McDonnell denied giving political favors to Williams, arguing that prosecutors never proved there was a quid pro quo, which is a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. McDonnell says he questioned the government's motivation.

"I do think that because I was the Governor of Virginia there were transactional immunity arrangements made for Johnnie Williams," McDonnell says. "While they gave nine different stories, they gave the one they wanted to for court."

In September 2014, McDonnell became the first Virginia governor to be convicted on felony corruption charges. Maureen McDonnell was also convicted by the same jury. The former governor was given a two year prison sentence, while his wife received a one year sentence.

McDonnell says he was prepared to go to prison when the Federal Appeals Court upheld his conviction.  It wasn't until the U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly granted him bond, that McDonnell says he began to feel optimistic.

He says the ruling coincided with the birth of his first two grandchildren.

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"God gave us this amazing favor with beautiful grandchildren at a marvelously important time," McDonnell says.  "In this case, where I needed encouragement, I needed hope and I needed a tangible sign."

McDonnell says that's when the tide began to turn.

Amicus Briefs were filed on his behalf by both democrats and republicans and U.S. Supreme Court judges expressed concern over federal statutes that gave unfettered discretion to the justice department in prosecuting elected officials.

On June 27th, 2016, the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned McDonnell's conviction.  While McDonnell says there's now vindication, he says the case has taken a tremendous toll on his family, especially his marriage.

"I thought prosecuting Maureen was wrong," McDonnell says. "I thought it was done just to get to me."

But McDonnell argues the case has also strengthened his faith and bonds as a family. Both Bob and Maureen McDonnell volunteer with Christian ministries and are dedicated to public service outside of public office.

Bob McDonnell says he'd like to work on education and criminal justice reform, especially when it pertains to government overreach cases. However, he says he doesn't believe he'll ever seek office again. He says his family is dedicated now to healing.

"It's been a hard time for my family," McDonnell says. "But we're strong, we are resolute and we have faith. I believe we will find a way to put this back together."