Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This is what negotiation looks like


Back on July 6, 2013, Republican blogger Willie Deutsch reported hearing rumors that Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell was in negotiations to resign his office due to the evolving Giftgate scandal. Initially skeptical, on July 10, 2013, I was presented with evidence that confirmed Deutsch's story was true at least insofar as the fact that negotiations were underway.

Nearly three weeks after Deutsch's initial report, Bob McDonnell has yet to announce his resignation, and since then Mr. Deutsch has been pilloried online. As much as I dislike having to defend a Republican blogger that I agree with on very little, I think the Republican website Bearing Drift may have been unfair to Mr. Deutsch when they banned him before waiting for this story to play out fully.

I think yesterday's apology from Governor McDonnell, coupled with a promise to pay back more than $120,000 in money given to the governor and characterized as "loans"--though they carried no interest, required no payments, and had no promissory notes--provides additional evidence that McDonnell is engaged in ongoing talks about the consequences of his actions, and resignation is still very much on the table. Jeff Schapiro, a well regarded political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch had this to say about Bob McDonnell's apology:
No longer defiant, McDonnell is contrite — a sign there may be more trouble ahead. Just because McDonnell is apologizing doesn’t mean the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, a federal grand jury in Richmond and the city’s prosecutor will drop their investigations.

A master of reinvention, McDonnell is attempting to transform himself again. This time, he is shape-shifting from pariah to object of pity. He sounds like a man trying to get in front of bad news before it happens.

Could the bad news be a federal indictment?

* * *

Could the bad news be a resignation?
You can read Schapiro's entire column entitled "Apology could signal more trouble for McDonnell" at the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Governor Bob McDonnell has been playing a game of Three-card Monte with Virginia. When questioned about Giftgate, McDonnell shuffles his cards around on the table and lifts up the card labeled "Virginia Gift Laws" and he says "See, nothing there." And as far as it goes, he may be right. Virginia's laws governing gifts to elected officials are truly pitiful, and even if there were a violation, the penalties they assign are also pitiful.

But there's at least one other card on the table, one labeled "The Hobbs Act," and McDonnell isn't eager to have that card flipped over any time soon. The real threat to Bob McDonnell--and it is very real indeed--comes from possible federal prosecution under the Hobbs Act.

So why hasn't Bob McDonnell resigned? The real question is why should he?

A federal prosecutor is presenting evidence regarding McDonnell's actions to a federal grand jury. If the grand jury doesn't indict McDonnell, he will probably try to hang on to his office and its perks--not least of which is his salary and free housing in the Governor's mansion.

If a federal grand jury does indict Bob McDonnell, then there will be plenty of time for him to resign then. Until and unless McDonnell is indicted, I wouldn't expect the governor's negotiations to result in a resignation. The Republican Party of Virginia has evidently made the calculation that riding out the Giftgate scandal is preferable to resignation during this election year.

So everything now hinges on the federal grand jury, and until that card drops, none of us really knows how this game of Three-card Monte will play out.

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