The United States Supreme Court put the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to bed for good on Monday morning, just ahead of the end of its current term. Bob McDonnell had taken his graft conviction to the US Supreme Court after he argued the multiple convictions on graft spelled out a massive overreach of federal prosecutors. SCOTUS apparently agreed, with most of the court actively remarking skepticism as to the job prosecutors did when they were going after McDonnell and his wife.
The heart of the case was a question before the Supreme Court as to what kind of behavior by elected officials such as McDonnell counts as “an official act.” According to the Huffington Post, that official act is something that has been in question for a while when it comes to federal corruption laws, and the former Virginia governor believed federal prosecutors had overstepped their bounds when they took him to trial.
Supreme Court unanimously throws out the conviction in the corruption case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. https://t.co/8tuTqqNNE0
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 27, 2016
The case that got all the way to SCOTUS involved McDonnell and his wife receiving more than $175,000 in gifts from a Mr. Johnnie R. Williams. Some of the gifts came in the form of campaign donations, while others were luxury items, according to the New York Times. A quick look at the gifts, even those that ended up being all expense paid vacations for the entire family, showed they were reported in the right way and were entirely legal. Where federal prosecutors felt they had a case was the question of why the family was receiving those gifts at all.
The prosecutors were able to convince a jury of McDonell’s peers that he was giving Mr. Williams aid through the Governor’s office for many of Williams’ business dealings. There were meetings arranged and events that were attended by Virginia government higher ups, but there wasn’t actually much benefit gained from Williams’ business, which dealt in diet supplements. Despite only the specter of a give and take relationship between the two men, the jury found Bob McDonnell had committed corrupt practices, and a federal appeals court later upheld the conviction.
While most people on the outside looking in felt as though the details of the relationship was shady, most people were quite surprised the courts were willing to send the former Governor to jail for merely shady actions. There was also the rather salacious wrinkle inserted into the case that Mrs. McDonnell might have been having an affair with Johnnie Williams, but there was no more proof of that then there was that the Governor had used his office in order to help his friend get a leg up in the business world.
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) June 27, 2016
Once the appeals court upheld the first ruling, McDonell’s last, best hope was heading to the Supreme Court. Almost from the beginning, SCOTUS seemed to be leaning against upholding the previous rulings. McDonnell was allowed to stay out of jail until a final ruling was made, and his defense team cited recent precedent created during the 2010 Citizen’s United case to help their own cause. In that case, SCOTUS ruled “ingratiation and access” were “not corruption.” It appears that direction was the way to go for this case as well. It’s clear Williams was given ingratiation and access but considering the access didn’t garner him much of anything and the gifts were legal, federal prosecutors didn’t actually prove corruption existed.
This final chapter in what has been quite the saga seems to end the adventure once and for all. Bob McDonnell has been allowed to go free by the United States Supreme Court, and it appears federal prosecutors are going to need to be more careful when it comes to going after these kinds of corruption charges in the future.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]