Federal prosecutors on Thursday urged an appeals court to uphold the public corruption convictions of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, arguing in a 102-page filing that jurors correctly found the one-time Republican rising star guilty in a clear-cut bribery case.
The filing — prosecutors’ first response to McDonnell’s appeal — argued that he used his office to help Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. promote a dietary supplement and that, in exchange, Williams gave the governor and his family more than $177,000 in loans and gifts, including luxury goods and vacations.
Prosecutors argued that McDonnell — whose appeal is built largely around the idea that he neither performed nor promised to perform any “official acts” for Williams — is now “confusing the applicable law and artificially sanitizing the facts” as he tries to have his convictions overturned.
“[D]efendant’s conviction does not break new ground or threaten democracy; the jury convicted him of a textbook quid pro quo,” prosecutors wrote in their filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were both convicted in September. He was sentenced to two years in prison; she was sentenced to a year and a day. They are both appealing, though the proceedings are being handled separately. Defense attorneys will have an opportunity to respond to the prosecution filing, and the parties are scheduled to argue the case in person in May.
Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, declined to comment for this article.
In a written statement, a McDonnell spokesman said that defense attorneys were reviewing the filing and that McDonnell “remains buoyed by the unprecedented broad support his appeal has received.”
McDonnell's appeal — which has many high-profile supporters, including former U.S. and state attorneys general, White House lawyers, prominent business leaders and law professors — argues that the former governor's conviction is built on a “boundless definition of bribery” and that if allowed to stand, it would criminalize routine political dealings in the United States. It also argues that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer made a number of errors throughout the legal proceedings, including not questioning jurors thoroughly enough about pretrial publicity and not separating the trials of McDonnell and his wife.
The prosecution filing Thursday takes aim at each of those arguments. Prosecutors argued that the McDonnells were properly tried in one proceeding and that McDonnell had “helped create” the pretrial publicity that he now contends is a reason to give him a new trial. They asserted that the evidence “overwhelmingly showed that defendant accepted Williams’s personal payoffs as part of a corrupt agreement to retain defendant’s services” and that McDonnell used his office to help Williams’s business interests.
“In the end, defendant’s claim is that a governor may secretly accept, with corrupt intent and without good faith, unlimited cash payments, and may do so in exchange for ordering cabinet-level officials to attend meetings and hosting events to further a particular business’s efforts to obtain state assistance,” prosecutors wrote. “The claim is manifestly wrong.”
Defense attorneys are expected to respond by April 8. The McDonnells have been allowed to remain free on bond while the 4th Circuit considers their case.