Five former Virginia attorneys general asked a federal judge to consider their argument that public corruption charges against ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell should be dismissed.
The former Republican governor and his wife Maureen are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his products. They have pleaded not guilty, and a jury trial that is expected to last at least five weeks is scheduled to begin in late July.
In a memo supporting their motion, the former top state law enforcement officers wrote that the government's “expansive interpretation” of the federal bribery law that is the basis for 11 counts “is completely alien to any legal advice that any of us would have given to any Governor of Virginia.” They said the government's view, if adopted into law, would establish the threat of federal prosecution for normal participation in the political process.
Three Democrats and two Republicans who served as attorney general between 1970 and 2001 filed a motion late Wednesday asking U.S. District Judge James Spencer to accept their friend-of-the-court brief. Spencer rejected a similar request from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers last week.
According to the indictment, the McDonnells opened the Executive Mansion for a launch party for a Star Scientific product, arranged for a meeting between Williams and a state health official and talked up the benefits of his company's dietary supplement Anatabloc. Among the gifts Williams gave the McDonnells were a Rolex watch, designer clothes, golf outings and $15,000 for catering a daughter's wedding reception, the indictment says.
The former attorneys general said none of the favors done by the McDonnells amounted to “official acts” within the meaning of the federal bribery law.
“Frankly, we are taken aback by the efforts of federal prosecutors to stretch the law to cover them,” they wrote.
They said if the type of access the McDonnells arranged for Williams constitutes an official act, then any meeting with a citizen, favorable treatment of a campaign contributor or “simple nod of approval” also could be defined that way to support a bribery charge.
“Whatever criticism might be made of such access, the practice has been repeatedly upheld as legal,” the former officeholders wrote. “Yet, under the indictment, the law will be turned on its head, and these long-established practices will be grounds for federal prosecution.”
The McDonnells made similar arguments in their motion to dismiss, which did not cover charges of making false statements. Prosecutors have until April 24 to respond to the motion, and a hearing is set for May 29.
The former attorneys general supporting McDonnell's motion are Democrats Andrew P. Miller, Mary Sue Terry and Stephen D. Rosenthal and Republicans J. Marshall Coleman and Mark L. Earley.
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