Serving Whitman County since 1877

Bob Franken

I wrote a snarky take a few weeks ago on the ongoing corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his first lady while he was in office, wife Maureen. Instead of taking the easy way out and copping a plea, the two went to trial.

To convince a jury they were guilty of no crime in taking $177,000 in goodies from a businessman in exchange for favorable treatment, they put on the most bizarre defense: Their marriage was too broken for them to participate in any scheme together. Day after day, we were treated to gory details of their terrible relationship and how the missus was a “nutbag.” It was a laugh a minute.

Only now it’s no longer funny; it’s pathetic. It didn’t work. Both were found guilty of most of the charges. They could spend years in jail. We’ll find out how many when they’re sentenced in January. Of course, there will be appeals, but what’s really sad is that none of this was necessary.

They could have taken a deal from prosecutors, which would have resulted in minimal or no jail time (and just for him) while avoiding all the humiliating disclosure of their matrimonial wreckage. And they could have taken care of their financial problems the old-fashioned way: by simply waiting until the end of his term and going through that revolving door to riches and a cushy, high-paying job with one of the companies whose cause the governor championed while still in office.

In McDonnell’s own state of Virginia, for instance, we witnessed the journey of Eric Cantor. Cantor put in his time, rising to House majority leader, until he lost his district’s Republican primary in a huge upset. Now it’s announced that Cantor, who was regarded as a big supporter of Wall Street while in Congress, will be taking a top executive position at ... wait for it ... an investment bank, with an annual salary of nearly $3.5 million.

Let’s rush to say that there’s nothing illegal about the Cantor transition. There had better not be; it’s the payoff that one can expect when one switches from the public trough to the private one — a normal, albeit smarmy, career move. It may seem corrupt to those of us lesser chumps, but it’s routine.

Another way it’s done is that after a brief wait, members of Congress and high administration officials take seven-figure jobs as lobbyists or advisers, talking client trash with their ex-colleagues in the Capitol, White House or cabinet departments.

The commonwealth of Virginia is crawling with corporate sugar daddies. Clearly, the McDonnells could have achieved the lifestyle they were pining for by digging in, paying the minimum on their maxed-out credit cards, wearing the same old clothes and then following the yellow brick road. Had they just turned down the chintzy graft, they would be living large now, either together or, if one believes the court testimony, happily and prosperously divorced.

Instead, their separate households could very well be different penitentiaries, each of them imprisoned by petty greed and impatience.

(Bob Franken is a syndicated columnist.)

(c) 2014 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Synd.


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