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McDonnell returns legal fire

With a double-barreled offensive, former Gov. Bob McDonnell promptly fired back the day he and his wife were indicted on corruption charges, criticizing the government’s charges in both federal court and in the court of public opinion.

With family members at his side, McDonnell made a public statement for cameras the evening of Jan. 21 at a Richmond law firm as his lawyers rushed to file motions and briefs in U.S. District Court proclaiming his innocence and attacking the prosecutors’ case.

A McDonnell supporter even offered to put reporters in touch with a former federal prosecutor who was prepared to criticize the indictment against McDonnell and wife Maureen.

The McDonnells’ lawyers say the fatal flaw in the prosecution’s case is the lack of any official action by the governor’s office to help the couple’s benefactor. The former governor may have lent the prestige of his office to enhance the credibility of a diet supplement product, but he never promised or delivered any official benefit, the lawyers say.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “routine political courtesies” cannot support bribery charges, the lawyers argued. If that were not the case, President Obama and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine would be subject to prosecution for similar actions, McDonnell’s legal team said.

A motion filed by McDonnell’s lawyers asked for access to recordings to determine what prosecutors told the federal grand jury that returned the indictment. The information would allow the defense and the judge to determine whether prosecutors misinformed the grand jury about the requirements of federal law, the lawyers said.

Besides attacking the “rickety legal foundation” of the government’s case, McDonnell’s lawyers say the case is built “largely from immunized testimony purchased with under-the-table promises to a key witness who would otherwise face criminal liability and massive financial penalties.”

A second motion, asking the judge to ensure the government promptly turns over all information helpful to McDonnell’s defense, discloses what McDonnell lawyers see as a flaw in the government’s case.

The lawyers say they recently discovered that Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff was secretly angling a deal to become a public relations consultant for diet pill maker Star Scientific while she was organizing a key lunch event at the Governor’s Mansion.

The alleged machinations by Mary Shea Sutherland undercut the government’s theory that the August, 2011, lunch was part of the McDonnells’ purported payback to Star Scientific, according to McDonnell’s lawyers. The lawyers say Sutherland circumvented the normal approval processes to schedule the lunch to announce Star-related grant awards.

McDonnell lawyers complained that prosecutors failed to appreciate how Sutherland’s undisclosed ties to Star Scientific might be considered “Brady material” – information that could be helpful to McDonnell’s defense.

Their motion asked that a judge get involved in discovery “from the outset” to ensure that all relevant information is fully preserved and disclosed.

— Peter Vieth

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