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Peter’s Take: Should a Crush Excuse a Crime?

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

When Ira Gershwin wrote those memorable lyrics to what became a jazz standard, he didn’t know his lyrics would play a central role in the criminal trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. Anyone still remember “Bob’s for Jobs?”

Regardless of how the trial turns out, something is really wrong with what Maureen and Bob did. We just don’t know whether what they did was a crime under Virginia’s notoriously lax ethics and political corruption laws.

Most ARLnow.com readers know the basic facts of the Bob and Maureen story. An “enterprising” Virginia businessman provides:

  • a Rolex watch for the Governor,
  • a $15,000 gift for the Governor’s daughter’s wedding reception,
  • a $20,000 shopping spree in New York City for the Governor’s wife,
  • large loans to the Governor, concealing the nature of the transactions and the identity of the lender, and
  • much, much more.

The Governor and his wife provide the businessman with:

  • meetings with Virginia officials who could facilitate lucrative deals for the businessman,
  • personal appearances at trade events to promote the businessman’s products.

Maureen’s lawyers claim that none of what Maureen did was a crime because:

  • her family was in great financial difficulty,
  • her marriage to Bob was broken and she was lonely for male companionship,
  • she had a crush on the businessman, and
  • she accepted gifts from the businessman for these reasons — not because she was trading access and influence for his gifts.

Bob McDonell’s lawyers claim that none of what he did was a crime because he didn’t know what Maureen was doing, and McDonnell didn’t do anything for this businessman that he wouldn’t do for any businessman.

Say what?

The McDonnells’ trial is important because it reveals once again the risks of political corruption in Richmond. In 2012, The Center for Public Integrity gave Virginia a grade of “F” for the risks of political corruption, noting that Virginia ranked 47th out of 50 states. Regrettably, Bob and Maureen are part of a well-worn pattern. That pattern includes both Republicans and Democrats. How many more national embarrassments will Virginia’s legislators need to change the pattern?

And how would Ira and George Gershwin have reacted to Maureen’s “crush” defense in this trial?

They would be working on a musical featuring Maureen and Bob. But, the Gershwins would have to find a new name for their new musical. They already used “The Man I Love.”

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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