An (Un)Appealing Argument: Why Bob McDonnell Shouldn’t Get His Hopes Up

If former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell is certain of anything, it’s that he never actually abused the powers of his office for the benefit of Jonnie Williams. Forget about the $170,000 or so in loans and gifts Williams extended to Virginia’s first family; “McDonnell’s last line of defense,” as Rick has noted, “[is] that the favors he did for Williams were not part of his official duties as governor.”  In other words, McDonnell believes that his influence peddling on behalf of Williams — in return for Williams’s financial “assistance” — did not amount to “the performance of an official act,” as required by federal bribery law.

Unfortunately for McDonnell, the judge overseeing his trial disagreed and refused to instruct the jury — as McDonnell had requested — that “merely arranging a meeting, attending an event, hosting a reception, or making a speech are not, standing alone, ‘official acts.’”  Instead, Judge Spencer adopted the prosecution’s understanding that federal bribery law encompasses quid pro quo arrangements involving the performance of either (1) a public official’s statutory duties or (2) those settled practices “‘that a public official customarily performs’ even if they are not prescribed in law.”  Not to be deterred, the former Governor thinks he has a strong case for challenging this instruction on appeal.  Here’s why he’s wrong.

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The Corruption Conviction of Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen were found guilty September 4 of accepting thousands of dollars in luxury goods, an expensive vacation, and $120,000 in loans in return for using the powers and perquisites of the governor’s office to promote a local businessman’s products.  Although proving a public servant took a bribe is never easy, the McDonnell conviction shows that it is not impossible.  It also shows what prosecutors can do to ease their task. Continue reading