Less than three months after the Supreme Court unanimously struck down his conviction on federal corruption charges, today the Department of Justice announced that it would not seek to retry either former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell or his wife, Maureen, who was convicted on similar charges. In a terse three-sentence statement, the Department of Justice indicated only that, 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” against the McDonnells.
In September 2014, McDonnell – once regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party – was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Prosecutors alleged, and the jury agreed, that McDonnell had violated federal laws making it a felony to agree to take “official action” in exchange for money, campaign donations, or anything else of value when he took thousands of dollars’ worth of loans and luxury goods from Jonnie Williams, a Virginia businessman who wanted to promote his company’s nutritional supplement.
The Justices agreed to allow McDonnell to delay his prison sentence while his case was under review, and in June of this year they threw out his conviction altogether. Just setting up a meeting with state officials, as McDonnell did for Williams, is not a crime – notwithstanding the loans and gifts to McDonnell from Williams. While not condoning McDonnell’s conduct, the Justices expressed concern that a contrary rule could leave the door open for “overzealous” prosecutions.
Today’s announcement likely signals the end of the McDonnells’ legal saga. The broader impact of the Court’s ruling in McDonnell’s case – especially to what extent it prompts the government to forgo future prosecutions – may be harder (and take longer) to discern.