RICHMOND, Va. – Letters in support of embattled former Gov. Bob McDonnell have poured in to the office of Judge James R. Spencer. The letters, 440 of them to be exact, come from friends, charity groups, former colleagues, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. McDonnell is facing more than a decade behind bars on public corruption charges.
The most emotional, and powerful letters to Spencer are those written by the former governor's children. His three daughters and two sons, who say they're heartbroken and take responsibility, in part, for their father's downfall.
In several pages of letters recently submitted to federal court, the McDonnell’s grown children describe their father as honest and giving. The man who dedicated more than 40 years to public service and who took them to homeless shelters every single holiday.
“Selfless is the perfect word to describe my dad," daughter Rachel McDonnell said in her letter to Spencer. "He has a genuine passion to help and serve others and puts everyone else's needs and struggles before his own."
Son Sean McDonnell wrote, “My father is my role model, my hero, and my best friend, he is a man whose mission in life had been to help other people. He is only guilty of being let down by his family.”
The McDonnell children go on to describe their parents deteriorating relationship--their mother's loneliness, and the family's trust and fault in accepting gifts from businessman Jonnie Williams---who they thought of as a family friend.
“The testimony about my mom was not just part of a defense strategy and was not an attempt to throw her under the bus, but unfortunately was the reality,” eldest daughter Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky wrote. “Sadly, my opinion is that my mom has had mental health issues for many years. She does not operate rationally, which has led to a complete breakdown in communication between my parents."
In her closing paragraph, daughter Cailin McDonnell pleads for the judge to recognize her father's character.
“Before you make your decision, she writes, please look into my father's eyes and you will see an honest and caring man.”
Other comments made by his children in the letters include:
“My dad always made a concerted effort to teach his children that we will receive no greater value in life than when we give ourselves to help others.”
-Robert McDonnell, son
“With a family of seven who all live separate lives, our busy father who was running the state, and a mother fulfilling her duties as First Lady, it’s obvious that there were breakdowns in communications. As a result, my dad was not informed on our individual activities and decisions.
“For example, when my mom returned from a trip to New York, she showed me a new purse, dress, and a pair of shoes. She specifically told me not to tell my dad that Jonnie purchased these items for her because she knew this is not something he would approve. My dad also did not know the details of my trip to Florida, nor was he aware that my sister and I used Jonnie’s airplane points for our trip to Savannah. If my dad had been informed about these gifts, he would have been adamant that we did not accept.”
-Rachel McDonnell, daughter
“With respect to my father’s relationship with my mother, it lacked a great deal of transparency. My dad was gone so often that it became impossible for him to know what my mother was doing, and vice versa. A majority of the time, I was not even aware of the gifts my mother was receiving involved Jonnie.
“My mother is a sweet lady, she loves her children more than anything in this world. She had no ill intentions in receiving gifts from Jonnie Williams. I do not believe she saw the trouble in it. Yes, gifts were received. But my mother was not corrupt for receiving gifts and my dad was not corrupt for not knowing about these gifts.”
-Sean McDonnell, son
“My mom, in contrast, has always been concerned about getting discounts and freebees. This was one of the main reasons that she would not communicate with him. She hid her coordination with people for free or discounted things or services and she didn’t communicate with my dad because she knew he would not approve. She became lonely while my dad got busier and began to fill that void with things many years ago."
-Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, daughter
“My father is the heart and soul of our family and we would be lost without him. The last 20 months have been unimaginably difficult for him. He has lost everything. Our family has been beaten up on for so long and we cannot take any more punishment. Our family will never be the same.”
-Cailin McDonnell Young, daughter
In September, Bob and Maureen McDonnell were convicted of federal corruption charges. Bob McDonnell’s attorneys are asking Spencer to sentence the former governor to 6,000 hours of rigorous community service instead of jail time. A hearing to determine his fate is scheduled for Jan. 6. Maureen McDonnell will be sentenced on Feb. 20.