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GIFTS SCANDAL Five former AGs: Dismiss McDonnell corruption charges

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Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 7:53 pm | Updated: 5:17 pm, Mon Apr 7, 2014.

Five former Virginia attorneys general are supporting dismissal of corruption charges against former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The former attorneys general, who span both political parties and who served over several decades, submitted a memo in support of McDonnell’s motion to dismiss the charges. The memo was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Representing the former attorneys general are William H. Hurd, former state solicitor general, and Stephen C. Piepgrass, both of Troutman Sanders LLP.

Democrats Andrew P. Miller, Mary Sue Terry and Stephen D. Rosenthal join Republicans J. Marshall Coleman and Mark L. Earley in the filing, arguing that the “expansive interpretation of federal law” on which counts 1-11 are based “is completely alien to any legal advice that any of us would have given to any governor of Virginia.”

“That expansive interpretation, if adopted into law, would wreak havoc upon the public life of Virginia by casting a shadow of federal prosecution and imprisonment across normal participation in the democratic process,” the filing states.

Attorneys for the former governor and former first lady Maureen McDonnell have asked a federal judge to dismiss the corruption charges against them, arguing that the U.S. government is trying to stretch the bounds of federal bribery law.

McDonnell and his wife face a 14-count indictment stemming in part from more than $165,000 in gifts and loans they accepted from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who at the time was CEO of Star Scientific.

“The political corruption charges leveled against former Governor McDonnell are based on an unprecedented interpretation of federal law that would, if adopted by this court, criminalize many basic practices of democratic politics,” the former governor's attorneys said in a memorandum filed in March supporting their motion to dismiss.

McDonnell's lawyers argue that none of the allegations in the indictment -- including that McDonnell arranged or suggested meetings with government officials, attended or hosted events -- meets the definition of an “official act” under the bribery laws.

The former attorneys general say in their brief that none of them would have concluded that the meetings, event hosting and other acts outlined in the indictment constitute “official acts” within the meaning of federal statutes at issue.

They further argue that if they were to constitute as official acts, “then any favorable treatment by a governor – including meetings with a citizen or a simple nod of approval – would constitute ‘official acts’ as well.”

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer this week denied a motion from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to file a brief in support of the motion to dismiss.

The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Spencer has set a July 28 start for the trial, which he expects to last five or six weeks.

Prosecutors have said the indictment “sets forth in detail the defendants' scheme to use Mr. McDonnell's former official position as the governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts and other things of value from (Williams) and Star Scientific in exchange for Mr. McDonnell and his former office performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies for Star Scientific's products.”

omeola@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6812

Twitter: @omeola

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