Federal prosecutors on Thursday dropped corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife, bringing to a close a case that had tarnished the once-rising star of the Republican Party.
In motions filed on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Dana Boente asks that Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s cases be sent back to the District Court level so that their indictments could be dismissed.
“After carefully considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further,” Boente’s office said in a statement.
The decision ends the long legal fight that derailed McDonnell’s political career and overshadowed his final year in office. The McDonnells were convicted in 2014 of accepting $175,000 worth of gifts and loans from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for using the prestige of the governor’s office to promote products made by his company, Star Scientific.
“We’ve said from the very first day that Bob McDonnell is an innocent man. After a long ordeal traversing the entire legal system, that truth has finally prevailed,” McDonnell’s lawyers, Noel Francisco and Hank Asbill, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
A June U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned the former governor’s conviction and sent the case back to the appellate court.
The appellate court would have decided whether there remained sufficient evidence to convict McDonnell, and if so, the case would have been retried.
McDonnell’s appeal centered around the term “official act,” arguing that the conviction criminalized routine political conduct. The high court agreed and said that setting up a meeting or calling another public official was not sufficient to qualify as an official act.
The gifts themselves were allowed under Virginia law at the time.
McDonnell and his wife admitted to accepting the money, designer dresses, a Rolex watch and trips from Williams, but McDonnell maintained that he did not abuse his office for personal gain.
Critics of the Supreme Court’s ruling said that the decision would make it harder to bring corruption charges against public officials.
The case prompted Virginia lawmakers to tighten state ethics laws, which now set limits for gifts from individuals and those seeking government contracts, but exclude gifts from friends and family. The state also created an ethics council.
The charges and conviction marked a stunning fall for the popular Republican governor, who was once considered as a possible vice presidential candidate. The trial, and even letters of support from the McDonnells’ daughters, featured sordid details about the couple’s personal lives and their rocky marriage.
The McDonnells were allowed to remain free throughout the trial and subsequent appeals.
Bertha R. Massie