McDonnell is denied request to immediately see documents gathered by prosecutors

A federal judge on Friday rejected requests from former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s attorneys that prosecutors immediately turn over a variety of documents they sought to prepare for a corruption trial this summer.

Since the indictments of McDonnell and his wife in January, McDonnell’s attorneys have argued in a series of biting legal motions that prosecutors have been withholding evidence that might show McDonnell’s innocence or otherwise aide in his defense.

Friday’s ruling was the first time U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer had weighed in on any of the disputes, siding with prosecutors and handing McDonnell a legal setback.

Spencer wrote that he would provide a lengthier explanation of his order later but for now said court filings from each side were sufficient to allow him to deny the request.

The defense had wanted a chance to make its case in an oral argument, but Spencer indicated that a hearing was unnecessary.

Prosecutors have promised to hand over to McDonnell material they gathered during their investigation well before the couple’s trial, scheduled for July 28. But they have argued that some of what McDonnell has requested is beyond the scope of what the law requires prosecutors to provide.

The former first couple faces 14 charges related to accusations that they took more than $165,000 in loans and luxury gifts in exchange for a promise to help the chief executive of a dietary supplement company promote a new product.

McDonnell has acknowledged taking the items and apologized, but he has insisted that he did not agree to help executive Jonnie R. Williams. Both of the McDonnells have said they did nothing illegal and have pleaded not guilty.

Experts have said it is not unusual for defense attorneys to file a flurry of motions and demands, even if some are doomed to fail. Victories on even a small number can boost the defense, and the filings allow defense attorneys an early opportunity to sketch out their theory of the case for the judge.

The volume and tone of the requests also signals to prosecutors and the public how strenuously the McDonnells plan to contest the charges, with attorneys for the couple following through on a January pledge from the former governor to “use every available resource and avenue” to fight.

A number of requests from McDonnell’s attorneys remain pending, including some that are scheduled to be heard by the judge at a hearing next week.

Those motions include a request that prosecutors turn over the instructions they provided the grand jury to demonstrate whether prosecutors accurately described what constitutes violations of federal corruption laws.

Spencer’s ruling on Friday dealt with two more narrow requests from defense attorneys.

In one filed the day of McDonnell’s indictment, his attorneys argued that prosecutors should be required to immediately turn over documents that included all of the FBI’s notes from interviews conducted as part of the investigation as well as transcripts of all testimony given by witnesses in front of the grand jury that indicted the governor.

They also asked to see any immunity deal the government struck with Williams, likely to be the star witness against the couple, as well as early drafts of any immunity deal and all correspondence between Williams’s attorneys and prosecutors.

They argued that the judge should order those documents and others to be produced immediately because they said prosecutors had already proven reluctant to turn over documents that could aide the defense.

Prosecutors have denied any reluctance to turn over material and promised to provide what the law requires well before trial.

The judge also rejected a separate request from McDonnell’s team that prosecutors be required to immediately turn over at least the transcripts of grand jury testimony and FBI interview notes for 25 people they identified as likely trial witnesses.

Defense attorneys argued that they were due the information immediately because of technical problems with a database containing millions of pages of discovery that prosecutors turned over in February. In recent filings, prosecutors have said the problems have been solved.

Attorneys for the McDonnells did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local