RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s lawyers filed a motion Tuesday evening asking a federal judge to dismiss most of the charges against McDonnell and his wife in a public corruption case.
The motion seeks dismissal of 11 corruption counts but does not mention two counts of making false statements or Maureen McDonnell’s single charge of obstruction.
The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his products. The former Republican governor’s lawyers argue in the motion to dismiss that McDonnell merely extended routine courtesies and political access to Williams and did not take any official government action to benefit his company.
“The political corruption charges 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,” defense attorney Jonathan A. Berry wrote.
According to the 14-count indictment, the McDonnells opened the Executive Mansion for a launch party for a Star Scientific product, arranged for a meeting between Williams and a state health official and talked up the benefits of his company’s dietary supplement Anatabloc. Among the gifts Williams gave the McDonnells were a Rolex watch, designer clothes, golf outings and $15,000 for catering a daughter’s wedding reception, the indictment says.
“If arranging or suggesting meetings with public officials, inviting a benefactor to an event at the Mansion (or allowing a benefactor to invite others to an event), or making favorable statements about a benefactor constitute criminal bribery, then virtually every political fundraiser would be a federal felony,” Berry wrote.
He compared McDonnell’s actions to President Barack Obama’s promotion of George Lopez’s late-night television show. He said the president was clearly repaying Lopez for his help in getting out the Latino vote for Obama.
“Just as President Obama did not take an ‘official act’ when he promoted a supporter’s talk show or exchanged private meetings with his Cabinet officials for high-dollar donations, Mr. McDonnell did not take an ‘official act’ when he allegedly asked subordinates to meet with Williams or said favorable things about Star, a Virginia-based public company,” the defense motion says.
Prosecutors must respond to the motion by April 24, and a hearing is set for May 19.
The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty, and their trial is set for late July.
The former governor was indicted 10 days after finishing his four-year term in January. Once a rising star in the Republican Party who was considered as a possible vice presidential pick, the federal investigation and subsequent charges have all but destroyed McDonnell’s political career.