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The Big Names Still Backing Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell As He Faces Sentencing

AP Photo / Steve Helber

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Reflecting on nearly 15 years of working with McDonnell, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia cited the former governor's efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons while he was in office in a letter asking Judge Spencer for leniency in sentencing.

Kaine noted that while both he and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) broke prior tradition to exercise their power as governor to restore felons' voting rights, McDonnell blew them both out of the water by restoring voting rights to 8,000 people.

"It seems fair to examine any request for mercy by exploring whether the petitioner has been merciful in similar circumstances," Kaine wrote. "I am convinced that Governor McDonnell showed mercy to convicted felons not for political reasons or because he had anything personally to gain by doing so."

Televangelist Pat Robertson

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's charity, Operation Blessing International, made a bid for McDonnell's freedom last month by offering the former governor a job either leading its hunger relief program in Appalachia or working at an orphanage and fish farm in Haiti.

"We believe appointing Bob in this role will have an immediate and positive impact on our ability to serve the poor in Appalachia," group President Bill Horan said in a statement. "Accordingly, we asked the court's blessing for Bob to volunteer with Operation Blessing to help feed the poorest people of the region rather than for him to spend his time sitting in prison."

McDonnell, a devout Catholic, graduated from the law school of Robertson's Regent University.

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA)

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) wrote Judge Spencer to vouch for McDonnell's character, drawing on their friendship of 23 years to argue that the former governor is a "good man" who was driven to serve the state of Virginia.

Rigell reflected on McDonnell's humble roots, writing that he first met the ex-governor and his wife when they were "buying a used Aerostar van for their growing family" at his car dealership. The congressman wrote that their friendship would not have lasted so long if he thought McDonnell had been abusing his office.

"…Not once was there any question in my mind on why he was willing to meet the demands of public service," Rigell wrote. "It wasn't what he could gain or how he could elevate himself; if it were, the closeness of, if not the friendship itself would have quickly evaporated."

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) similarly drew on his decades-old friendship with McDonnell, writing that he hoped “experiences I share in this letter help demonstrate the high level of character and integrity Bob has shown to me over the last twenty-three years that I have had the opportunity to know him.”

The former congressman emphasized that McDonnell sought to provide a "normal" life for his family, despite the demands and the spotlight that came with governing the state.

The McDonnell Family

The ex-governor's corruption trial revealed a deep wound in the center of the McDonnell family: the crumbling of his marriage. Four of the couple's five children closed ranks around their father and wrote Judge Spencer asking for leniency, and at least two of them attempted to shift blame for the family's downfall onto their mother.

Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky wrote that while her father never cared about material things, her mother "has always been concerned with getting discounts or freebies."

Cailin McDonnell Young agreed. "My Father's testimony was widely criticized in the media as geared towards 'throwing the family under the bus'. I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth," she wrote. "It was very difficult for him to testify to these intimate issues, but it was the truth."

This post has been updated.

About The Author


Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at