A federal judge on Tuesday denied motions to dismiss most of the corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife and rejected requests the couple be tried separately, leaving the McDonnells with precious few legal options ahead of a scheduled trial date in late July.
The couple will be tried together — limiting their options to either blame or try to exonerate one another — and a federal judge appeared unmoved by a push from Mr. McDonnell’s legal team to narrowly define what constitutes an “official act” from the governor in exchange for goods or services.
“Whether Defendants’ conduct in fact constituted ‘the corruption of official positions through misuse of influence in governmental decision-making’ is a question for the jury based on the evidence adduced at trial,” Judge James R. Spencer wrote Tuesday in his order denying motions to dismiss.
That means, absent a plea deal, the former governor and his wife, Maureen, are set to face a July 28 jury trial after a 14-count federal indictment was handed down in January saying former health supplement company executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. supplied the McDonnells with gifts and loans and, in return, received access in order to peddle his products.
Mr. McDonnell’s lawyers have argued that nothing tangible was exchanged, seeking to undercut the argument that the former governor used his official position to advance Mr. Williams’ interests.
The former governor and his wife, who faces similar criminal counts, have pleaded not guilty to charges that stem from accepting, among other things, $15,000 for catering at their daughter’s wedding, an engraved $6,500 Rolex watch and a New York City shopping spree. Mr. McDonnell has said the gifts were motivated by friendship and that the family has repaid them.
Prosecutors have argued that, in context, the fact that Mr. McDonnell was involved with setting up meetings could constitute official acts and that the McDonnells were secretly receiving gifts while organizing them.
Judge Spencer also denied motions to grant the McDonnells separate trials.
Mrs. McDonnell’s attorneys said she could deliver testimony to help exonerate her husband at a separate trial that she could not if the couple is tried together, but Judge Spencer said that the defendants failed to meet their burden to show a joint trial will result in a miscarriage of justice or prevent Mr. McDonnell from receiving a fair trial.
The McDonnells have also been charged with making false statements to banks.
From the start, Mr. McDonnell’s lawyers have argued that federal prosecutors were using an “extralegal” interpretation of state law in order to bring their charges.
They also drew on last month’s McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court decision, which voided the overall federal limit on individuals’ campaign contributions, and the landmark 2010 Citizens United decision that lifted restrictions on independent political spending to suggest the court employ a significantly narrower definition of political corruption than was used by prosecutors.
The notion of prosecutorial overreach was also broached in a proposed court filing last month by five former Virginia attorneys general, Democrat and Republican, though the filing was ultimately rejected.
The memo, submitted for the judge’s consideration as a friend of the court brief, said the corruption charges against Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, rely on an “expansive interpretation” of federal law and are alien to any advice they would offer a governor of Virginia. They said such an interpretation creates the possibility of federal prosecution for “normal participation in the democratic process.”
Attorneys also moved to strike a portion of the indictment related to Mrs. McDonnell’s purchase and transfer of Star Scientific stock and alleged efforts to avoid the state’s financial disclosure requirements — a move that was denied.