RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his public corruption convictions, arguing that he never took any official action to benefit a wealthy businessman who showered him and his family with more than $165,000 in gifts and loans.
In a petition filed Tuesday, McDonnell's lawyers say he only provided "routine political courtesies" to former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, who was seeking — but never received — state university research for his company's anti-inflammatory dietary supplement.
"This is the first time in our history that a public official has been convicted of corruption despite never agreeing to put a thumb on the scales of any government decision," McDonnell's lawyers wrote in the 36-page filing.
They said McDonnell was convicted based on a "radically expansive definition" of what constitutes an official action under federal bribery law. Allowing the convictions to stand, the lawyers argued, "gives prosecutors a basis to investigate and indict essentially any official they choose. That is a dangerous power, inconsistent with our Nation's commitment to resolving political disputes through the political process rather than by putting opponents in prison."
McDonnell's lawyers also argue that the trial judge did not adequately question potential jurors about whether they had already formed an opinion based upon "a barrage of inflammatory and misleading media coverage."
Federal prosecutors have 30 days to respond. The justices have no deadline for deciding whether to consider the appeal.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court put Maureen McDonnell's case on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether to review her husband's convictions. The former first lady, also convicted of public corruption, had asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone a scheduled Oct. 29 hearing. Over the objections of prosecutors, the court granted the request in a one-sentence order Wednesday.
A jury in September 2014 convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 counts, derailing the career of a rising Republican star once considered a potential vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012. He was sentenced to two years in prison but has been allowed to remain free until the Supreme Court decides whether to consider his appeal.
Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, but she also remains free during her appeal.
According to testimony at the McDonnells' six-week trial, the couple hosted a product launch event for Williams at the Executive Mansion and attended other promotional events. Bob McDonnell also asked other state officials to meet with Williams, but the former governor's lawyers argue that he never pressured those officials to do anything to help Williams.
Meanwhile, Williams loaned the couple tens of thousands of dollars to help them pay debts and keep their money-losing Virginia Beach vacation rental properties afloat. He bought nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell and a Rolex watch for Bob McDonnell. Williams also paid for trips and golf outings for the couple and their children, and gave $15,000 for catering at a McDonnell daughter's wedding.
Williams testified under immunity for the prosecution.