A federal appeals panel court on Thursday unanimously affirmed the public corruption convictions against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, writing in an 89-page opinion that the onetime Republican rising star “received a fair trial and was duly convicted by a jury of his fellow Virginians.”
The decision, authored by judge Stephanie D. Thacker and joined by judges Robert B. King and Diana Gribbon Motz, thoroughly rejects all of the arguments McDonnell raised about why his convictions should be thrown out — or why he should at least be given a new trial. It also brings to a close an important chapter in the story that emerged more than two years ago when the Washington Post first reported on the governor’s strange relationship with a Richmond executive trying to promote his business.
While McDonnell’s attorneys have vowed previously to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court — and his wife is pursuing a separate, ongoing appeal — it is now likely he will be sent to federal prison to start serving his two-year sentence.
McDonnell has been vigorously asserting his innocence since the day last year that he and his wife were charged with public corruption, and that effort did not stop when jurors decided in September that the pair corruptly lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods. McDonnell’s wide-ranging appeal raised a myriad of issues, but most importantly, he asserted that he neither agreed to nor performed any so-called “official acts,” for Williams in exchange for bribes, and that jurors were instructed wrongly on the topic.
The appeals court panel disagreed, asserting that the government had “exceeded its burden” of proof on the topic of official acts. The opinion cited three particular ways in which McDonnell tried to use his office to help Williams: trying to get researchers to study Williams’s product, Anatabloc; trying to the state tobacco commission to fund studies of an ingredient in his product; and trying to get Anatabloc included in the health insurance plan for state employees.
They also wrote that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer did not err in how he instructed jurors, and noted that in at least one instance, McDonnell’s lawyers seemed to want to use the instructions as a “thinly veiled attempt to argue the defense’s case.”
McDonnell’s appeal had enjoyed broad and high-profile support — former U.S. and state attorneys general, White House lawyers, prominent business leaders and law professors had filed amicus briefs supporting him — but the appeals court had showed signs of skepticism. At a hearing in May, the judges peppered one of his lawyers with questions that seemed critical of his point of view.
Source: The Washington Post |