WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 – In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was found guilty of violating law when he accepted money and loans from Jonnie R. Williams, CEO of Star Scientific.
The Supreme Court made its decision based on defining “official action” and how it is used in corruption convictions.
Chief Justice Roberts defined “official action” by saying, “It’s a decision or action on a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,'” and added, “Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so) — without more — does not fit that definition of an official act.”
In 2014, McDonnell was found guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy after accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Star Scientific in exchange for promoting its new vitamin supplement. Early last year, McDonnell was sentenced to two years in a minimum-security prison, while his wife was sentenced to one year.
While his actions may seem distasteful and inappropriate, the justices ruled that this is nothing more than regular politics. The bottom line is letting your state down, and inappropriate behavior is not illegal. The court’s decision now makes it extremely hard to convict politicians on public corruption charges without solid evidence.
This decision will impact the case against Sen. Bob Menendez, who was indicted on corruption charges last spring, stemming from allegations that he traded deals for more than $750,000 in campaign donations from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
Because of the Supreme Court, Menendez can be found guilty only if there is something in writing stating that he was making the deal for contributions from Melgen.
Roberts’ decision also calls into question the conviction of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of trying to sell the Senate seat that was held by President Obama. If there is no “smoking gun” in the form of paperwork, Blagojevich’s conviction could be overturned.
This decision could also convince politicians to make deals while skirting the laws and avoiding “official action” in order to make those deals without being thrown in jail.
This ruling also possibly protects Hillary Clinton and her foundation’s deals with foreign leaders.