Tags: McDonnell | case | weak | bribery

Experts: Feds Don't Have Strong Case Against McDonnell

Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 11:13 AM

By Lisa Barron and Wanda Carruthers

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Legal experts are predicting that prosecutors could have a hard time proving that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have committed any crime.

They tell The Washington Post the government may not be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the McDonnells agreed to help Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams, in exchange for $165,000 in cash and gifts.

"The whole case is going to boil down to proving the quid pro quo," Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and expert on public corruption, told the newspaper.

"They can't just show that he got these gifts, but most prove that he received them in exchange for official acts. The defense is going to say, 'Hey, this is what a Virginia governor is supposed to do — promote Virginia businesses," he explained.

Andrew McBride, a defense lawyer who used to prosecute fraud and public corruption in Virginia, agreed, telling the Post, "The biggest problem the government has is, what official act did he take as governor to further the interests of Star Scientific?"

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen were indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury on 14 counts of accepting bribes from Williams, the boss of supplements-maker Star Scientific.

Prosecutors said in the indictment that McDonnell promoted Star's dietary supplement, introduced Williams to senior health officials, and worked with his wife to lobby for researchers to conduct trials of the product.

But much of the government's case relies on Williams' testimony as star witness, according to the Post, noting that he agreed to cooperate with federal investigators only after facing a probe for possible securities violations and obtaining immunity in exchange for revealing what he and McDonnell discussed in private.

"The challenge is, if it comes down to the word of one person, who has real incentive to tell a story the way the government would like to hear it, jurors are likely to be skeptical and focused on those motivations," Andrew Wise, a lawyer who represented a defendant in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, told the newspaper.

Others point to the actions of McDonnell's predecessors to explain why a prosecution might be hard to obtain.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Thursday, "Go back to the last five or six Virginia governors, and you're going to be able to find benefits that they handed out that were much greater to companies than, say, a launch party for a pill.

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"I think it seems like the prosecutors may just be shaking them down to try to get an obstruction of justice charge and send somebody to jail for a year or two, or possible probation," he added.

Scarborough maintained the case against the McDonnells would be "hard to prove," unless prosecutors could find some direct connection between the gifts and special favors Williams might have received.

Scarborough further questioned why U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder "didn't have more to do that day" than to get involved in state politics.

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