Exclusive: After dropped charges, former Va. Gov. savoring ‘simple freedoms of life’

WASHINGTON — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who went from felon to free man over the last several months, now tells WTOP that he is focused on his consulting business with his sister, charity work and his four young grandchildren.

“I’m going through a period of restoration and rejuvenation,” McDonnell said from his office in the Hampton Roads area.

“I’m going to be registering to vote here in the next few days, the bar has already contacted me about getting my law license back, which was just in a period of suspension, and I will get my passport back,” McDonnell said. “So, honestly, those things that many people take for granted, those simple freedoms of life, will always be more precious to me.”

The former chairman of the Republican Governors Association said he will be voting for Donald Trump in the presidential election, but has no plans to put his own name back on the ballot.

“From the outside of politics, away from the polls and the photographs and all those things, I can be of greater service by being a little bit more reflective on sort of the big picture of what we need to accomplish to keep America great — and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

Restoring felon voting rights 

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction earlier this year, prosecutors announced last week they would drop federal corruption charges against McDonnell and his wife. McDonnell likens his ability to register to vote again after prosecutors moved to drop the corruption case against him to the restoration of voting rights for felons whose convictions were not overturned.

“I spent a lot of time as governor helping to restore the individual civil rights of people; I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We are a nation of second chances, and now I’m sort of in a position where I will get my rights back and be able to vote in this election, and you know I’m thrilled about that and I intend to do that.”

Generally, McDonnell said he supports current Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to restore the rights of felons who have completed their sentences, but McDonnell questioned some of the administrative issues that have led to people being incorrectly listed and have slowed the process after the Supreme Court of Virginia overturned McAuliffe’s initial sweeping executive order.

McDonnell said he hopes the General Assembly will one day join other states to pass a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the rights of felons who have completed their entire sentence and paid all fines. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment is backing a constitutional amendment that would provide automatic restoration to only certain felons, while barring the governor from restoring the rights of others.

Legal bills mount

Despite being cleared, McDonnell and his family face steep legal bills tied to the investigation, trial and appeals that lasted more than three years.

“I’ve got a lot of, I think, friends who would like to help contribute to our legal defense fund,” McDonnell said.

The legal bill for McDonnell, alone, is well over $10 million, he said. That doesn’t include legal fees for his children or his wife. “Everybody had to have a lawyer, unfortunately, as they got drug before grand juries and had subpoenas issued,” he added.

“But the first order of business is to reorder and reprioritize life in accordance with the important priorities in life: people first, and then secondly to be able to spend as much time as I can with my kids and grandkids,” McDonnell said. “And I think these financial issues will take care of themselves.”

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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