Thursday, September 8, 2016
Declining to Re-Prosecute McDonnell - The Right Decision
As noted here by Solomon Wisenberg, DOJ moved to remand the case against Robert F. McDonnell to the district court in order to dismiss the indictment with prejudice. Many in the media have reported about this dismissal (e.g., Washington Post here, USA Today here) The Washington Post states that this results from a "new legal definition" being given to public corruption (Washington Post). While others criticize the Supreme Court with comments such as "[w]e are now seeing that the Supreme Court's decision will in fact result in corrupt conduct going unpunished, just as we feared it would." See Statement here - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
But some media and critics are missing the point here. The McDonnell decision was not a close call - it was a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. There were no dissents.
This is not a case that puts a stop to prosecuting bribery and extortion cases. The law clearly allows such prosecutions and there have been many such prosecutions without reversals.
The McDonnell case was one we see too many times, where prosecutors push the envelope and prosecute conduct that does not meet the statute. And Hank Asbill, Noel Francisco, and the rest of McDonnell's legal team did a wonderful job showing this.
Elected officials who corruptly take money or items of value for an official act can be prosecuted. And prosecutors need to focus on bringing cases that meet the language of this statute. But the receipt of money or items of value alone are not a crime. If a politician's merely taking money is considered to be a crime, then politicians would be unable to accept any campaign contributions. And although many may find this result good - it is not the law.
So, DOJ should be applauded for making the right decision here. Spending more time or money on a case that does not meet the legal mandates is a poor choice of how to spend limited resources. What is particularly outstanding on the part of DOJ here is that they issued a press release stating, ""[a]fter carefully considering the Supreme Court's recent decision and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further."
It is rare that DOJ issues a press release noting a not guilty verdict, a court dismissal, or something other than an indictment or conviction. It is hopeful that what DOJ has done with the McDonnell case, of issuing a statement of dismissal, will be replicated in non-white collar cases.