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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Republican Bookend Governors - Virginia and New Jersey Now Political Partners in Trouble

Two promising Republicans who were hinted at being potential presidential candidates are now bookends in preventable corruption investigations.  

New Jersey Governor Christie was sworn in for a second term today, January 21st. No doubt, he imagined there'd be national attention as he took the oath of office for a second term. No doubt, he assumed that what he said in his second inaugural address would be scrutinized. But in the time between Christie’s impressive reelection victory in November and his snowy swearing-in on Tuesday, a lot has changed, reports the Washington Post. 

Inauguration Day once might have focused on Christie, the GOP establishment favorite for the party’s presidential nomination; Christie, a Republican capable of winning blue states in a general election; Christie, a politician who had good relationships with many Democrats; Christie, a no-nonsense governor who led his state back after Hurricane Sandy.

This is the Christie who, a week after winning reelection, was on the cover of Time magazine with the sub-headline, “How Chris Christie Can Win Over the GOP,” and the Christie who did a victory lap on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Instead, it was a day in which the national attention cast the governor in a far less flattering light, focusing on Christie, a politician now under state and federal investigations; Christie, a Republican whose hardball style may be more liability than asset; Christie, a governor whose administration is accused of threatening to hold Sandy relief money hostage; Christie, a once and perhaps future national candidate pinned down and politically damaged.

The message of his inaugural address was the same one Christie preached during and after his reelection campaign: that of seeking bipartisan cooperation with Democrats in his state in contrast to the red-blue divisions that have left Washington in gridlock and legislative paralysis.  

Do you hear the vaudevillian "dong!"?  Christie was supposed to come out of his New Jersey victory with gloves to show he could be right wing enough to snare the conservative uncompromising Republicans. Well, that's not going to happen now that Christie must negotiate with Democrats to save his own legal skin against subpoenas.

Now we look at Virginia, where the previous governor and his wife were charged with illegally accepting gifts. Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged Tuesday with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond-area businessman who sought special treatment from state government. 

Authorities alleged that for nearly two years, the McDonnells hit up executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. again and again, lodging near constant requests for large loans, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides.

This "snake oil" and "magic pill"corruption included the prestige of the governorship to Williams’ struggling company, a small former cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.

Evidently, the first couple arranged access for the CEO to meet top state officials, allowed the historic governor’s mansion to be used for a launch party for his company’s new non-FDA approved pill and attended events designed to boost the company’s prestige with university scientists who might research the company’s product.

The two were charged with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office and conspiring to the do the same.

They were also charged with making false statements to a federal credit union.

McDonnell was also charged with making a false statement to another financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with obstructing the investigation.

Charges mean the couple could face a maximum of decades in prison, though would likely serve far less if convicted.

“We will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute public corruption,” said U.S. Attorney Dana Boente in a statement.

Democrats are obviously relieved to see two high profile adversaries in the 2016 presidential election now defending themselves against corruption. 

Nevertheless, the fact is, these two Governors were being vetted for Republican party leadership. Being discredited now creates a vacuum among the right wing party loyalists. Filling this vacuum will raise extremists like Senator Rand Paul, or Senator Ted Cruz or Senator Marco Rubio to the top of the leadership line. It's certainly not a promising line up.

Now Governor McDonnell says his indictment is the result of federal government over reach. Obviously, his illegal gifts of a Ferrari and the engraved Rolex did not arrive from the federal government. It's difficult to understand how Governor McDonnell could consider the federal government as over reaching when he accepted these expensive gifts while endorsing snake oil magic pills.

Not only was what Governor McDonnell and his wife accepted a pack of illegal graft, but the fact that state health officials were asked to research the magic pill shows an abuse of power.

Gifts valued at a minimum of $140,000 in total included designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf clubs, iPhones and a painting, according to a list of items included in the indictment. 

list of the gifts is available here. They're stunning, but they're also bribes for political favors.

At the end of the day, political corruption is, unfortunately, a two lane highway. These abuses of power are not isolated to one political party. The scandalous two stories led by two presumptive Republican leaders should warn all upwardly mobile politicians to pay attention to their jobs serving the people, rather than on achieving their own ambitions.

Christie and McDonnell are bookend Republican leaders who will likely find themselves collecting dust on the shelf of history, because their political careers were damaged by their own corruption and stupidity.

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