By Lisa Barron
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s lawyers have filed motions challenging the federal indictment against him on charges of wire fraud, bank fraud, extortion and conspiracy.
The Virginia Republican’s legal team argued Tuesday that what he did was no different than President Barack Obama trading official appointments for political gifts, reports Politico.
“The President routinely participates in corporate events which lend credibility to his major benefactors, invites benefactors to events at the White House, allows his photo to be taken with benefactors, and includes benefactors in policy discussions with senior administration officials,” McDonnell lawyers John Brownlee and Henry Asbill wrote in the motion, filed shortly after the indictment.
“Politics is replete with examples of major benefactors receiving more substantial government benefits than anything suggested here,” they added.
The motion also points out that Obama has appointed some top Democratic fundraisers to key ambassadorships and has made appearances at the offices of major donors, including DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
It goes on to argue that previous Virginia governors have done what McDonnell is alleged to have done but never faced criminal charges.
“Governor McDonnell’s predecessors engaged in indistinguishable conduct, further negating any inference that Governor McDonnell acted with corrupt intent. Virginia law does not limit the amount of gifts that a political official can receive and, in fact, it expressly exempts from criminal prosecution the receipt of gifts with a frequency that gives rise to an appearance of misuse of office,” his lawyers wrote.
“It is consequently routine for Virginia politicians to accept large gifts and donations, and the mere acceptance of such gifts cannot support an inference of corrupt intent,” they said.
The Washington Post’s Editorial Board had its own take on that argument, writing in the newspaper Tuesday, “The ‘Virginia way’ needs some urgent updating; Mr. McDonnell himself said as much before he left office by acknowledging the need for ethics reforms.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe, recently sworn in as governor, has also promised to push for tighter laws. But a bipartisan bill drafted in response to Mr. McDonnell’s troubles is full of half measures and anemic reforms.”
The Post editors concluded, “That’s not good enough. For starters, Virginia needs a muscular ethics commission endowed with the resources and legal authority to pursue real investigations. Virginia needs much stricter limits not just on gifts to politicians and their families but also on campaign contributions.”
“If anything good can come from the ignominy of Mr. McDonnell’s governorship, it should be a state ethics regime second to none,” they added.
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