Appeals court upholds former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s convictions

By Andy Fox, WAVY-TV 10 – 7/10/2015

View TV story here.

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s public corruption convictions.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were unanimous and issued and 89-page opinion Friday upholding the lower courts guilty verdicts.

A jury in September found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of doing favors for former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.

The appeals jury panel dismissed McDonnell’s claims that he never performed any official acts for Williams. On page 80 of the opinion, it reads, “With power comes influence.”

“It established, in this opinion, the government proved during trial the reason for giving the gifts was to get the influence, to get the special favors, to get the special treatment,” said attorney and appellate court analyst Steven Emmert.

On page 81, it says McDonnell used the power of his office to influence governmental decisions.

“It wasn’t just that Jonnie Williams tried to influence the governor; McDonnell actually did do things in response to those gifts,” Emmert said of the judges’ ruling.

The former Republican governor, once widely considered a possible running mate to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was sentenced in January to two years in prison. His wife was sentenced in February to one year and one day in prison. Both are free on bond while they pursue appeals.

State Senator Louise Lucas, of Portsmouth, said, “So, there are a lot of folks who are sympathetic with Bob McDonnell, because we didn’t have anything in place to say what the dos and don’ts were … I am not surprised by the ruling.”

Former State Attorney General Tony Troy filed a brief along with the court, supporting McDonnell. He also rallied other former state attorneys general to support him, too.

“The distinctions were not made between official acts that have impacts on government policies and procedures verses official acts that are routine common courtesies,” Troy said.

Troy is a strong advocate that the definition of “official acts” used in the McDonnell trial was so broad it could snare almost any unsuspecting political leader.

McDonnell’s side argued there was, indeed, a broad interpretation of what an official act is, and that that led to the corruption convictions. Now, settling that issue at the U.S. Supreme Court is a real possibility.

Emmert said, “I would venture to guess that virtually every elected official  is wondering, ‘what may I have done, what may have been offered to me that may be construed as an official act and could be a  problem?’”

Defending former Gov. McDonnell has cost millions of dollars, and he’s adamant he was wrongly convicted.

On page 63, the judges disagree: “the solicitation or acceptance of the bribe completes the crime, regardless of whether the recipient completes, or even commences, the ‘official act’ the bribe payor sought to influence.”

On page 64, the judges laid out the government proved i’s case against Bob McDonnell.

“What the government had to prove, not that all kinds of evil things happened here, all they had to do was to prove in response to gifts, money, loans, and it influenced an official act, and that’s what they proved,” Emmert said.

On page 88, you find the ultimate ruling in the case: the judges agreed the solicitation or acceptance of the bribe completes the crime. Jonnie Williams corrupted McDonnell to get Williams product, Anatabloc, tested in state labs. The opinion states, “That he actually did perform these acts on behalf of the company in exchange of immediately after receiving these favors, these gifts, these loans.”