maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

There is something unsettling about Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, being allowed to have a possible indictment on federal criminal charges delayed after senior U.S. Justice Department officials went along with requests from their attorneys.

Federal prosecutors reportedly told lawyers for the McDonnells on Dec. 9 that they planned to ask a grand jury to return an indictment. But those lawyers appealed to higher Justice Department officials, who agreed on Dec. 12 to delay any such decision, according to The Post.

While the Post reports that it isn’t uncommon for DOJ officials to delay indictments of high-profile figures, overriding federal prosecutors would be extremely rare. Possible indictments could now come sometime between Jan. 2 and February.

Why the delay? This is where the move gets murky.

The Post report suggests that one reason is so Virginia can avoid the shame of having a sitting governor under indictment. McDonnell is scheduled to leave office Jan. 11 when Democrat Terry McAuliffe takes over.

This is absurd. The McDonnells willingly and repeatedly entangled themselves in an unsavory relationship with Star Scientific Chief Executive Jonnie R. Williams, including accepting gifts and loans worth more than $165,000. Some of this was not reported on the governor’s financial disclosure forms. Maureen McDonnell appeared to be actively promoting a dietary supplement and other products made by financially struggling Star.

They did all this while McDonnell was in office; they can face any consequences for their actions while he is in office. It was obviously wrong because McDonnell gave back much of what could be given back and publicly apologized.

The Post reports that another argument for the indictment delay would be to make sure that the transition of power from McDonnell to McAuliffe is smooth. Huh? McDonnell has already introduced his proposed budget and McAuliffe has picked most of his team. How could any of that be disrupted?

Perhaps more important, there may be a credibility problem with potential prosecution witness Mary Shea Sutherland, who served as Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff for 21 months. Sutherland was involved in setting up a special event in August 2011 with Mrs. McDonnell to launch Anatabloc, a dietary supplement crucial to Star Scientific.

Why would Sutherland be a weak witness? It’s not as if she was a novice in the executive mansion? She had worked for former Republican Governors George Allen and Jim Gilmore. When Sutherland left to go into private events planning, Maureen McDonnell praised her work.

There’s also a deadline problem related to a sidebar state prosecution of the McDonnells. State authorities are looking into whether McDonnell violated state law by not filing complete and timely disclosure reports on required gift forms.

The timing in this matter has always been curious. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems that the McDonnell team is effectively pushing everything back as far as they can in hopes the government’s case will collapse. The team has the savvy to do so. For example, William A. Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer, is a Washington-based expert in helping corporations in crisis and was a federal prosecutor in New York. He was involved in the case against famed home-making star Martha Stewart.

I can’t help but speculate. Is some kind of dramatic move been engineered behind the scenes? Is Terry McAuliffe considering a grand gesture of granting McDonnell some kind of Gerald Ford-style pardon?

I hope not. That would be a betrayal of the trust of the people of Virginia. They have endured among the weakest disclosure and accountability laws in the nation. The biggest political corruption scandal in years should not be resolved behind closed doors.

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6 responses to “Are the Feds Going Soft on the McDonnells?”

  1. Breckinridge Avatar

    McAuliffe grant a pardon on a federal offense? Sorry, did we elect him Governor or President? Please Peter — at least stuff your straw man with real straw.

    The Governor has gone gray in the past two months. The change has been dramatic. I don’t think he feels anybody is doing him any real favors. Delaying the indictment until after he leaves office, and not doing it on the day he was presenting the budget, is not big deal — assuming it still happens, which apparently it will.

    I await the evidence. I have no idea what Mary Shea has told federal investigators and she may have evidence of a crime. That’s what trials are for. But the way these prosecutors have tried this case in the media, leaking stories clearly timed for political effect, represents a new low in the political abuse of their offices. And shame on the media for not forcing them to go on the record to do their dirty work. Chicago comes to Virginia.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The pardon thing would be for state crimes. It is not my idea but came from Jeff Schapiro via Bearing Drift. It would be clear if you bothered to click on the cite which is why it is there.

    Straw man? Please place your putdowns with some degree of accuracy. If the feds are ready to indict the McDonnells, it isn’t exactly a “straw man” situation.It is an enormously real and serious situation.

    As far as crying for McD about turning gray, accepting Rolex watches, loans, etc. is simply wrong. Stop putting Chicago down. Having lived and worked there, I realize that people there don’t pretend to be something they are not as Virginians do.
    The head-in-the-sand views you espouse are why anything goes in the Old Dominion. Ample evidence why we need a State Ethics Commission.

    1. Breckinridge Avatar

      The suggestion that McAuliffe will pardon anybody for anything is a classic straw man. A cheap debaters trick. And don’t hide behind Shapiro. He doesn’t report anymore, he speculates. He is entertainment, and far less entertaining than Hinkle or some others.

      If McDonnell did what you think he did, and they have evidence to make a case, I agree he should be brought to trial — where he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not trial by leak. Not trial by blog. Trial in a court in front of a jury of his fellow Virginians. My head is not in the sand, but it is heavy with sadness and disappointment.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I didn’t suggest McAuliffe would pardon anybody. I merely said there was a rumor of a pardon in Richmond which is accurate. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

  4. I’ll bet there have been some interesting conversations between Bob, Mareen and others.. I wonder if the feds recorded any? How could a smart guy like McDonnell be so stupid?

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    I think McAuliffe is a whole lot smarter than people think. A pardon for state crimes is both unlikely and of little value. It’s unlikely because it would confirm McAuliffe as the kind of insider / meddler everybody guesses he really is. It is of little value since it wouldn’t help McDonnell with the federal indictment (if one is forthcoming).

    Could McAuliffe be using his considerable influence with the Obama Administration to slow things down? Oh yes. But why?

    McAuliffe knows he’ll only be governor for four years. He also knows that the House of Delegates is likely to remain in Republican control throughout that period. What’s a poor boy to do? Favors. Favors are the currency of politics and McAuliffe knows that. If he helps McDonnell (even a little) during these difficult and embarrassing times Virginia’s Republicans will notice. If he needs some help to get background checks in place for gun shows (as Colorado has done) then maybe he “calls in” the favor.

    Four years is the blink of an eye in politics. McAuliffe has exactly that long to demonstrate that he is an effective politician. And a four year stalemate with Republicans doesn’t help Terry’s cause. McAuliffe will be 56 years old when he is inaugurated. That would make him 60 when his single term ends. Plenty of time for “the next thing” and maybe even “a next thing after that”.

    But before you get to “next things” you have to do “this thing”. And “this thing” is going to require some cooperation from Virginia’s Republicans if it is to be anything at all. A grateful Bob McDonnell might go a long way toward getting some Republican cooperation down the road.

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