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The governor’s apology isn’t enough to show remorse for gifts he took from a businessman involved in a tax dispute.
Daniel Lin | The Roanoke Times Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell addresses the crowd during the beginning of the April 16, 2012 Candlelight Vigil on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. Photo by Daniel Lin and shot on 04/16/2012.
Friday, July 26, 2013
The governor of Virginia is addressed on formal occasions as The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell.
Long before he was elected chief executive, he exuded an almost old-fashioned sense of honor.
But this week, McDonnell had an opportunity to leave office in the way a public servant should.
Instead, he left the country, tweeted a half-hearted apology and waited for the scandal to blow over.
We may not yet know all of the particulars, but news accounts indicate McDonnell made faulty financial decisions several years ago.
Acknowledging those errors and doing what was necessary to clean up his personal ledger would have caused him some public chagrin, but most of his constituents would have respected him for taking responsibility for his all-too-human mistakes. Instead, he kept his troubles under cover. And a businessman involved in a tax dispute with the state came to his rescue.
In accepting assistance from Jonnie Williams Sr., McDonnell compromised his integrity and began a precipitous descent into an ethical quagmire.
Gifts of a Rolex watch, designer clothing and catering services were bad enough.
More than $120,000 in loans from Williams raised the stakes and drew the attention of federal investigators. McDonnell’s actions cannot be excused as a series of bad but hasty judgments. An attorney, he made meticulous use of legal loopholes for gifts to family members and business transactions, loopholes that permitted him to avoid disclosure of some items and cloak others in ambiguity.
When initial revelations emerged that Williams had paid the bill for food served at his daughter’s wedding, McDonnell did not come clean about the full extent of the largesse he had received.
He waited to see if he would be found out.
Many who know him hoped, even trusted, that he would take responsibility on his own.
But this week’s pitiful apology was a disappointment.
In a statement, McDonnell said he is “deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia,” but quickly added, “I broke no laws.”
McDonnell should have had the courage to call a press conference, publicly admit that his actions were wrong and take his licks.
Instead, his statement was released on Twitter by the spokesman for his legal team after McDonnell had traveled to the other side of the world to visit troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan. Although he did grant an interview from the Middle East to a Washington, D.C., television station, he continued to hem and haw about the “appearance of impropriety” and to express sorrow “to the degree that . . . there have been lapses on my part.”
Although his acceptance of luxury gifts is harder to explain, McDonnell appears to have been complicit in the acceptance of the loans because he felt a sense of responsibility to his family to fix his financial mistakes. But in the process he forgot that he also has a responsibility as a public servant to his constituents.
Taking responsibility requires more than waiting until he is caught and then giving back some, but not all, of his ill-gotten gains.
Taking responsibility also means a serious assessment of whether he can do his job. He has been largely invisible in recent weeks, and a previously unannounced trip to Afghanistan hardly qualifies as a return to his public duties. His most important duty this week should have been to face all Virginians and admit he did wrong, a duty he shirked.
He could have handled things differently, but his latest actions make it clear he has decided to let the federal investigation determine his fate.
Regardless of whether laws were broken, his constituents’ trust in him certainly is. The state deserves better.
The governor returns to the commonwealth today.
Virginians are still waiting for him to face them and show true repentance.
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