Federal prosecutors will abandon their effort to retry former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June reversal of his conviction on corruption charges. The decision, which became public in a court filing, represents a major victory for McDonnell, who was once considered a rising star in the Republican Party.
McDonnell and his wife Maureen were found guilty in 2014 of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman in exchange for political favors. The day he was originally indicted, McDonnell apologized for using “poor judgment” and acknowledged receiving the loans and gifts. But he insisted that he did nothing illegal in exchange for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams.
The justices ruled that McDonnell had not violated federal bribery laws when he had agreed, for example, to do something as minor as arranging a meeting for a financial supporter. In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts called McDonnell’s actions “distasteful,” and even “tawdry,” but not illegal.
The decision not to retry McDonnell was welcomed by William A. Buruck, the attorney who represented Maureen McDonnell. “We thank the Department of Justice for the care with which they reviewed the case,” Buruck said. “We are thrilled and thankful that Maureen can now move on with her life.”
But the Washington Post reports that the decision to drop the McDonnell case wasn’t without controversy within the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia had recommended pushing the case forward.
Such an apparent disagreement is not uncommon, said Anthony Capozzolo, a former federal prosecutor who handled public corruption cases in New York. But he told the Two-Way that the Justice Department’s action is a “game changer” that could impact other public integrity cases.
“The government had a good case in terms of jury appeal,” Capozzolo said. “But it appears the department’s decision is solely based on the view that McDonnell’s activity did not rise to the level of the standard in the Supreme Court decision.”