The weakness in the federal case against Bob McDonnell

In our latest outing for the Washington Post, Paul Goldman and I take a look at the still-pending federal case against Gov. Bob McDonnell. We’re not convinced the feds have a good case — let alone one they can win in court. The reason? A lack of solid evidence…and the reliability of a main federal witness: former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Williams’s background is not widely known, even today, in Virginia. But he has been on the federal government’s radar since the 1980s, according to extensive reporting on his business ventures that appeared in the Boston Globe at the time. And a 1981 story in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star describes Williams as a young “super salesman” and owner of an optician shop who suddenly “departed for parts unknown leaving in his wake a host of debts and countless pairs of unclaimed eyeglasses.”

Prior to the McDonnell probe, Star Scientific faced a federal investigation that was potentially financially ruinous. This securities probe has seemingly stopped.

We don’t doubt that McDonnell screwed-up — big time. He has ruined his political career, his personal finances and may yet find himself hauled into federal court.

But there are so many questions about Mr. Williams, we are left to wonder whether McDonnell could get justice. Needless to say, this is not a popular position to take, particularly considering that taxpayers may still be on the hook for his legal bills even after he leaves office.