Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell contends that if the Supreme Court agrees with prosecutors’ broad view of bribery law and allows his corruption convictions to stand, it would make a politician’s ordinary interactions with donors a crime and upend the U.S. political process.
The eight justices will hear arguments on Wednesday in the appeal by McDonnell, a former rising star in the Republican Party, of his 2014 conviction arising from gifts from a businessman who sought to promote a dietary supplement. It is the final case they will hear in their term that ends in June.
The legal question concerns whether McDonnell’s conduct constituted “official action” in exchange for a thing of value, as required for conviction under federal bribery law. His lawyers contend he merely arranged meetings, asked questions and attended events, the same type of activities that politicians routinely perform in exchange for campaign contributions.
“This case marks the first time in our history that a public official has been convicted of corruption despite never agreeing to put a thumb on the scales of any government decision,” his lead lawyer Noel Francisco told the justices in legal papers.
“Officials routinely arrange meetings for donors, take their calls, politely listen to their ideas, and refer them to aides. In criminalizing those everyday acts, the government has put every federal, state and local official nationwide in its prosecutorial crosshairs,” Francisco added.
In court papers, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the justices in the past have carefully distinguished “general ingratiation” between a politician and a donor from “quid pro quo exchanges – for example, a governor’s demanding a $1,000 contribution as the price of an official meeting.”
“But no such issue arose here, because the bribes in this case were personal loans and luxury goods, not campaign contributions,” Verrilli said.
McDonnell, a former rising star in the Republican Party, and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in 2014 of taking $177,000 in gifts and loans from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams. McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison, which he has not yet served.
At trial, prosecutors detailed the lavish lifestyle the McDonnells enjoyed thanks to gifts and sweetheart loans from Williams including vacations, designer clothing and shoes.
The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld McDonnell’s conviction last year.
“The concern is that under the lower court’s definition of ‘official act,’ anything that’s a means to an end … is now fair game for prosecution,” said former prosecutor David Debold, a white collar crime defense lawyer with the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm.
Tara Malloy, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center campaign finance law watchdog group, said to convict a politician, prosecutors must prove “an explicit corrupt agreement” in which the defendant agrees to do something in return for the money, Malloy said. That is not a factor in routine campaign contributions, Malloy added.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
BUSTED: Devin Nunes is hiding how he’s paying for all his frivolous lawsuits — which could land him in more trouble
On Saturday, the Fresno Bee dived into a lingering question: How does Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) pay for all the lawsuits he is filing against journalists, satirists, and political critics?
"Nunes, R-Tulare, has filed lawsuits against Twitter, anonymous social media users known as Devin Nunes' Cow and Devin Nunes' Mom, a Republican political strategist, media companies, journalists, progressive watchdog groups, a political research firm that worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and a retired farmer in Nunes’ own district," noted the Bee.
These lawsuits were mainly filed in Virginia — a state with very loose laws against so-called "SLAPP suits," or meritless lawsuits intended to drown people in legal expenses in retaliation for expressing political opinions. Nunes was assisted in these suits by Steven Biss, a Virginia attorney, and yet except for the suit against the retired farmer, there is no clear record in Nunes' FEC reports of how he paid for the suits.
Trump brings up Brett Kavanaugh in rage tweet at Democrats about coming impeachment trial
On Saturday, President Donald Trump brought up Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a bizarre rant against the "Radical Left, Do Nothing Dems" and his anger over the direction of the impeachment process:
After watching the disgraceful way that a wonderful man, @BrettKavanaugh, was treated by the Democrats, and now seeing first hand how these same Radical Left, Do Nothing Dems are treating the whole Impeachment Hoax, I understand why so many Dems are voting Republican!
McConnell’s impeachment collusion admission handed the Democrats a powerful new weapon to damage the president
Mitch McConnell's admission on Fox News that he is working behind the scenes with the White House to stack the Senate impeachment trial gives Democrats a potent weapon against the GOP, wrote Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman in the Washington Post.
"If Democrats play their procedural cards right, they can pressure Republicans to allow for a much fairer and more open trial that could actually produce new revelations — and if they refuse, extract a political price for it," they wrote.