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How SCOTUS reversal of former VA Governor’s conviction changes how corruption is prosecuted




Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell (C) pauses as he speaks to the media outside U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after his sentencing was announced.
Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell (C) pauses as he speaks to the media outside U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after his sentencing was announced.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption conviction has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling that will ultimately make it more difficult for prosecutors to go after public officials on corruption charges.

The ruling states that it’s not enough for prosecutors to claim corruption simply because a public official sets up a meeting with a constituent, calls another public official, or holds an event. It says that in order for a prosecutor to win on a corruption charge, he or she must prove that the official was approached about some matter, question, or controversy that could legally be brought to a public officials.

Second, it requires proof that the accused took official action on the matter brought to their attention.

McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted in 2014 after the details of a relationship McDonnell had with a Virginia businessman surfaced, showing that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had given McDonnell more than $175,000 in gifts, including Rolex watches and vacations. In return, prosecutors argued that McDonnell had agreed to help Williams get in touch with the right people in the state who could speed up clinical trials on a dietary supplement that Williams’ company was making.

McDonnell’s attorneys say he never did anything official to help expedite the trials.

Guest:

Richard Briffault, Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School and a member of the advisory board at Columbia’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity