Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell Speaks After Corruption Case Dropped

At 1:20 p.m. Thursday, former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell heard from his attorneys: There was news in his case. Then, he waited a long 25 minutes.

The news, when it was delivered, was good for the former governor, whose once-promising political career and reputation had been destroyed by a criminal corruption case. Even the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned McDonnell's conviction, couldn't erase the stain.

McDonnell learned that the Department of Justice had decided not to try him again. He called his wife, Maureen, who had also stood trial. He called his sister. Then he texted his children, some of whom had testified in the case. 

"Great news. It's over. Love, Dad," McDonnell said he texted. 

"I sobbed," he said.

McDonnell and his wife were accused of violating federal bribery law by accepting $165,000 in luxury gifts and loans from wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplement. For 43 months, had been under investigation, been charged, been convicted and been sentenced.

The McDonnells appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the convictions in June. The court called his actions tawdry and distasteful, but not criminal.

McDonnell spoke to News4 Friday after learning that he would not be retried. "At the end of the day, because I knew in my heart I hadn't violated the law, would never violate the law -- I knew because of the justice system and my faith in God that it was going to be OK."

He said he had learned from his ordeal, which included embarrassing photos of McDonnell driving Williams' Ferrari and photos of the Rolex that Williams bought him. Williams also bought Maureen McDonnell designer clothes and gave $15,000 for catering at the wedding of McDonnell's daughter, prosecutors said.

"In retrospect, I wouldn't have taken some of those things," McDonnell said, "even though they were routine and lawful under Virginia law.

"There were probably too many things."

And he had some advice for young people, particularly those who might run for office some day. "You've always got to be on guard when you are in a position of trust," McDonnell said. "Don't allow yourself to be in a position where people can even begin to question your judgment."

At issue in McDonnell's case was a federal bribery law that makes it illegal for a public official to agree to take "official action" in exchange for money, gifts and other things of value.

In vacating McDonnell's conviction, the Supreme Court ruled that setting up a meeting or organizing an event -- without doing more -- isn't considered an "official act."

"What we've always said and articulated is that you need to demonstrate that the public official is kind of putting his or her thumb on the scale for an individual," said John Brownlee, a McDonnell defense attorney and former U.S. attorney. "That they are in fact trying to provide some kind of contract or board position of something tangible, not general political courtesies."

Prosecutors also decided to drop charges against Maureen McDonnell. A federal appeals court had put her case on hold until the Supreme Court examined her husband's case.

McDonnell's attorneys are now working to rehabilitate their client's image. Attorney Hank Asbill said he wanted this message to be clear: "Bob McDonnell did not sell official acts for money, and Bob McDonnell did not sell access for money. And I want to make sure people understand that."

Brownlee said he believes this case should trigger a review inside the Department of Justice.

"I this this case needs to be reviewed ... from top to bottom. This is a major problem for the Justice Department, that they went after a governor -- almost his entire last year in office he was under investigation. This case was leaked to the papers and the press throughout, almost daily, all of it negative against him, And then they brought him to trial on a legal theory that the unanimous Supreme Court has rejected. So how did that happen?"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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