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September 9, 2016

DOJ, wisely in my view, decides to drop prosecution against former Virginia gov Bob McDonnell and his wife

As reported in this Reuters article, "U.S. prosecutors on Thursday dropped corruption charges against former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, bringing to a close a case that tarnished the once-rising star of the Republican Party."  Here are more details and context:

"After carefully considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further," the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out McDonnell's bribery convictions in a ruling that could make it tougher to prosecute politicians for corruption.

The eight justices, liberals and conservatives alike, overturned McDonnell's 2014 conviction, saying that his conduct fell short of an "official act" in exchange for a bribe as required for conviction under federal bribery law. Jurors had convicted McDonnell for accepting $177,000 in luxury gifts and sweetheart loans to him and his wife Maureen McDonnell from a wealthy Richmond businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement. He was sentenced to two years in prison but remained free pending appeal.

The case was a rare instance of the nation's highest court reviewing a high-level public official's criminal conviction. The court sent the case back to lower courts to determine if there was sufficient evidence for a jury to convict McDonnell, which had kept alive the possibility of a new trial.

His lawyers applauded the decision, saying in a statement on Thursday: "Governor McDonnell can finally move on from the nightmare of the last three years and begin rebuilding his life." McDonnell served as governor from 2010 to 2014 and once was considered a possible U.S. vice presidential candidate.

His wife was convicted in a separate trial and given a one-year sentence but remained free while pursuing a separate appeal.  The Supreme Court ruling effectively applied to Maureen McDonnell too, meaning that her conviction also had to be tossed out....

Legal observers have noted that the Supreme Court ruling opens the possibility that politicians could sell meetings and other forms of access without violating federal law.  The decision was criticized by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a corruption watchdog group.  It said in a statement the Justice Department had "sent a clear signal that it would not aggressively enforce corruption laws to hold public officials accountable when they abuse their office.”

As I suggested in this prior post, I am generally pleased that the Justice Department has decided that there is now no real public benefit in continuing to use taxpayer moneys to seek to further condemn and harm former Gov McDonnell and his wife for their various suspect actions.

A few of many prior related post:

September 9, 2016 at 10:50 AM | Permalink

Comments

The statement was brief, so it is unclear exactly why they did this.

The past thread noted that there is a public interest (especially given lobbying power etc.) in prosecuting in certain cases. Contrary to some implications, I did not disagree, but noted that in some cases it would be more important to do so when the person is in power. And, this can be more true if under the Supreme Court ruling it is an uphill battle to prove the persons in question broke the law. Which might be the case here.

It's hard to know for sure.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 9, 2016 8:15:27 PM

Maybe Blago can wiggle out of his mess, but he has no more appeal chances.

Blago belongs where he is, for now.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Sep 9, 2016 9:40:46 PM

I personally agree with the Courts decision. Public officials are under extreme scrutiny as it is, and unless a politician makes "official acts" or promises as such in exchange for some benefit, then I don't think they ought to be prosecuted. Politicians often get gifts, money(via campaign contributions), etc, from constituents, family, etc, and as long as there is no quid pro quo, then no violation occurred. It should be for the electorate to assess the credibility of their politicians whos conduct falls below the standard.

Moritz Student

Posted by: Ismail Mohamed | Sep 10, 2016 7:27:15 PM

@Moritz Student

The problem is that quid pro quo can be subjective, and in fact be detrimental to the decision-making process in the opposite manner. Here's an example:

Let's say the guv gets a gift from a constituent who is involved in urban renewal (antiquated term, I know, but stay with me). Next there is a item of sigificance as it pertains to a contract for restoration of urban properties worth millions. The governor may elect to either veto the bill, or fail to follow through on executive action, this very contract, because he my feel that a decision to move forward on that project would result in the public scrutinizing him for the gift.

So without the gift, the governor may have acted differently, at least acted with an absolutely unbiased mind to the problem. This is why we must have a very strict, very black-and-white policy on gifts, value of gifts, as well as the crony, anti-voter relationships they can produce.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Sep 12, 2016 8:18:10 PM

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