Friday, August 26, 2016

DOJ Deciding Whether to Retry Former VA Gov. McDonnell

Federal Prosecutors (DOJ) have asked for three more weeks to decide whether they will pursue the public corruption case against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen, saying in a court filing that Justice Department officials are still debating how to proceed.

The filing asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to keep both cases on hold until Sept. 19 and says it will be the last request for any type of delay. It offers no indication of how Prosecutors may be leaning.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer unanimously overturned the former Governor’s corruption convictions and laid out a higher bar for charging public officials with such corruption crimes, but it did so in a way that left open the possibility McDonnell could be re-tried. The high court ruled unanimously that the instructions given to jurors in McDonnell’s case about what constituted an “official act” were flawed and said a lower court should consider whether the former Governor’s case could be brought under the new definition it laid out.

Federal Prosecutors then asked for time to weigh on their own whether they would continue to press such charges.

In addition to considering whether Prosecutors could win at a new trial, Justice Department Officials are likely debating whether the case should be brought again given the resources another trial would consume.

Prosecutors had previously sought and won a month to review the Supreme Court decision. This new request is also likely to be granted within a few days, given that McDonnell’s defense team has agreed to the motion.

The McDonnells were convicted of taking more than $175,000 in loans and gifts, a Rolex watch, fancy clothing, vacations, partial payments for a daughter’s wedding reception among them, in exchange for helping Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. advance a dietary supplement his company had developed. The McDonnells arranged to connect Williams with State Officials, allowed him to throw a luncheon at the Governor’s mansion to help launch the product and shape the guest list at a mansion reception meant for health-care leaders, jurors found. But the Supreme Court ruled that such behavior was merely constituent service.

While all the gift-taking looked “tawdry,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time.”

To bring a new case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia must convince the Federal Appeals Court that they can prove an illegal quid-pro-quo relationship between the McDonnells and Williams without that evidence.

Legal experts say Maureen McDonnell’s fate is tied to that of her husband. While the Supreme Court did not address her conviction, they were tried under the same jury instructions and her case is currently on hold. If he is tried again, she likely will be as well. If prosecutors drop the case against her husband, they will follow suit with her.

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