Tomorrow marks the culmination of our efforts to clear Bob’s name. Today’s story in the VA Pilot reflects his faith, hope and determination. Please pray for all.
Worshippers at that point of the service were invited to offer one another a sign of peace. Bob and Maureen McDonnell kissed.
Attending services at The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk highlighted the former governor’s attempt to live a normal life while facing the uncertainty of a possible two-year stay in federal prison. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear oral arguments in McDonnell’s appeal of public corruption convictions.
McDonnell, 61, has told friends he’s confident he’ll win his appeal, but is also aware he may end up serving that prison sentence. And he knows the public is watching, said Jeff McWaters, a businessman and former state senator who hosts a men’s prayer group several times a month that McDonnell attends at McWaters’ Virginia Beach home.
“This is a guy who’s just trying to get back to a normal life,” McWaters said. “His faith is so strong he’s really feeling like he will be vindicated. … He confidently anticipates that the Supreme Court will look at that mountain of legal thought and will vindicate him.
“However, I think he’s a realist. Bob knows that there’s a chance that that might not happen, and I think he accepts that.”
The court’s decision is expected by the end of June. If it does not go McDonnell’s way, he will be ordered to serve the sentence a federal judge gave him in January 2015 following his convictions on 11 counts in a scandal that led to reforms in Virginia law related to gifts and trips from lobbyists.
A jury in 2014 found McDonnell and his wife guilty of accepting thousands of dollars’ worth of loans, gifts and luxury vacations from Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting Williams’ business from the Governor’s Mansion.
McDonnell, widely considered GOP vice presidential material before his January 2014 indictment, is trying his best to work, volunteer and spend time with family all while living in limbo.
“I’ve even heard him joke around and say, ‘Hey, I got through Army boot camp. I’ll get through this,’ ” McWaters said.
“He’s very aware that people are watching how he’s handling this.”
Shortly after the convictions, friend Rod Rodriguez offered McDonnell a consulting job at Bay Mechanical Inc. in Virginia Beach. McDonnell began working 24 to 30 hours a week. He continues to work for Bay Mechanical, and in 2015 started a consulting company with his sister, Maureen, called The McDonnell Group to do corporate and small-business consulting.
McDonnell also is working as a consultant to The ESG Companies on the plan for a new arena in Virginia Beach, his sister said. He does volunteer work for Operation Blessing International and hosted a fundraiser for the humanitarian organization in Bristol.
Each week, his sister said, McDonnell makes a list of five people to visit or reach out to – maybe someone who recently lost a loved one or someone who in a hospital.
“He’s been busy trying to help those that are hurting,” she said.
“He’s not just sitting at home feeling sorry for himself,” said another friend, Gene Loving, a media company executive from Virginia Beach.
McDonnell has an undisclosed amount of debt from his legal bills. The Restoration Fund, an organization formed to raise money for his defense, continues to operate.
After the convictions, McDonnell eventually began making public appearances with his wife, Maureen, who was sentenced to one year and a day in prison on her charges; her case remains on appeal.
Although McDonnell said during their trial that he and his wife were estranged and living separately, they appeared together in June at a comedy show at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach and acted as a couple. Legal observers after the trial criticized lawyers for focusing on the challenges in the McDonnells’ marriage as a defense strategy.
McDonnell in October gave a $500 donation to GOP state Senate challenger Richard Ottinger of Norfolk, who lost his race last year to Sen. Lynwood Lewis. McDonnell attended all or most of the recent Republican presidential candidate forums hosted by Regent University, and was applauded after being singled out by Donald Trump. Attendees at the forums shook McDonnell’s hand, hugged him and wished him well as he smiled and nodded in appreciation.
The McDonnells greeted state Senate Republican Majority Leader Tommy Norment in court in Virginia Beach on April 7 when Norment helped represent their son Bobby in an appeal of a driving-under-the-influence conviction. Later that day, McDonnell sat near the front of the room when Gov. Terry McAuliffe spoke to the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon in Chesapeake. McAuliffe made a good-natured joke about whether he’d signed more job deals than McDonnell.
While putting on a public smile, McDonnell knows a chapter could be complete by summer. It won’t be soon enough for him.
“He wants it to be over,” McWaters said.
Pilot writers Bill Bartel and Matt McKinney contributed to this report.
President Restoration Fund