In a published report on Friday, the Washington Post quoted unnamed sources as saying that the prosecution team that won a public corruption case against Virginia’s former governor and his wife want to go forward with a new trial, in the wake of a Supreme Court decision overturning the governor’s prior conviction.
Ex-Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen G. McDonnell, were convicted of taking money, loans and expensive gifts and outings in return for “official acts” by the governor that supposedly favored a business project of a Virginia executive who became close to the family. The Supreme Court overturned McDonnell’s conviction on June 27, ruling that prosecutors had used too broad a definition of “official acts” in seeking to prove a corrupt bargain. Mrs. McDonnell’s conviction has been on hold in a federal appeals court.
The Friday story, appearing on The Post‘s online page, gave no details, citing only “people familiar with the case.” It did note that any decision to actually stage a new trial would ultimately be made by higher ranking officials in the Justice Department. A few days ago, the story said, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch refused a request for comment on “the process” for deciding for or against a new trial.
It may be that those who favor a new prosecution attempt leaked the information as a way to try to put pressure on more senior officials to go along. There was a broad hint, in a court filing on August 26, that there was an internal debate going on within the Justice Department about what to do next.
In asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for more time to file a joint report by prosecutors and defense lawyers on the status of the case, the filing noted that the “process has progressed but has not been completed within the Department of Justice.” That seemed to suggest that the delay in reaching a conclusion may have arisen out of disagreements on the prosecution side. Obviously, McDonnell’s defense lawyers want the charges dropped without a new trial.
Mrs. McDonell’s case apparently depends upon what happens in the ex-governor’s case, because the two prosecutions have been linked from the beginning. Her lawyers and federal prosecutors made a similar comment about the internal discussions in an August 26 plea for more time to report. (Previously, attorneys in both cases had been facing an August 29 deadline for status reports.)
In both of their new filings, the two sides promised that they would “not make any further requests” to keep the cases on hold. They sought a new reporting date of September 19. In similar orders on August 29, the Circuit Court agreed to set that new reporting schedule.
When the Supreme Court sent the governor’s case back after nullifying his conviction (and two-year sentence), it told the Fourth Circuit Court ot consider whether the government’s evidence of corruption was strong enough to justify trying him again. If not, the Justices said, the charges agains thim must be dismissed. Presumably, the same would apply to the case against Mrs. McDonnell.
If the Justice Department does agree to try again for convictions, the two sides would be expected to tell the Fourth Circuit Court on September 19 that they had agreed on a new schedule for the ex-governor’s trial. it is not clear what they would say about Mrs. McDonnell’s case, because her prior conviction has yet to be reviewed by the Fourth Circuit Court.
Because The Post‘s story did not reveal how prosecutors had come to the conclusion that they had sufficient evidence to pursue the charges against the ex-governor even within the narrower definition of “official acts” mandated by the Supreme Court.