How the McDonnell indictment threatens Warner and McAuliffe

According to Isaac Newton, the biggest losers in the Robert McDonnell prosecution could end up being Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Mark Warner. This isn’t fair. But it is reality.

The famed physicist’s Third Law of Motion colloquially asserts that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Former governor McDonnell and his wife, Maureen — charged together — passionately assert their innocence and claim unjust prosecution. Their lawyers have already challenged the indictment in legal motions suggesting the prosecution misled the grand jury and knowingly sought to destroy a “Republican” governor in an election year. Why do they use the term “Republican” repeatedly in the motions?

Surely we don’t need to answer a rhetorical question. We don’t know what went on behind the scenes in this case, but high-profile political prosecutions often follow the McDonnell pattern. Prior to indictment, leaks to the media help in trying to convince those accused to take a plea. If the target refuses, prosecutors throw the book at the defendants to scare them. The 14-count, 43-page McDonnell indictment qualifies as a very big book.

In turn, defendants fight back in the press, invariably raising questions concerning the government’s motivation. In today’s political climate, GOP vs. Democratic partisanship seemingly shapes everything. Should McDonnell be acquitted, Republican partisans will logically consider the prosecution a partisan travesty. It wouldn’t surprise anyone should they accuse the Obama administration of appointing, if not influencing, a biased prosecutor.

The blame may not end there. Democratic Sen. Warner seeks re-election in November. Democratic Gov. McAuliffe is already challenging GOP legislators and badly needs their cooperation to move his agenda.

Last year, Republicans suffered their worst statewide defeat in nearly a half-century. Turnout for non-presidential year Senate elections has historically been low. Angry GOP voters could swarm the polls looking for payback.  The target? Warner.

The McDonnell case might be viewed as the most explosive political prosecution in Richmond since Aaron Burr’s treason trial in 1807. The fallout could poison state politics for years into the future.

Norman Leahy is an editor of the conservative Web site BearingDrift.com and producer of the political radio show “The Score.” Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They are blogging together on All Opinions Are Local during Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session.

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Michael Larabee · January 22, 2014