The news that federal officials are scrutinizing campaign contributions to Governor Terry McAuliffe sets up another potential showdown between federal prosecutors and high-ranking elected officials in Virginia. It’s latest in a series of investigations in recent years. But investigations don’t always lead to charges.
Remember the charges against state Senator Phil Puckett of Russell County? No? That’s because federal prosecutors never brought charges, despite widespread speculation in the media that the FBI was investigating his abrupt departure from the Senate.
“Federal prosecutors investigate things all the time and then decide not to bring charges for all kinds of different reasons."
That’s state Senator Scott Surovell, one of the few Democrats to sign onto amicus briefs supporting Republican Governor Bob McDonnell — whose fate is currently in the hands of the United States Supreme Court.
"It’s very important when criminal statues are written and when they are enforced that the jury instructions given and that that the laws written are extremely clear so that everybody knows where the line is."
But Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the line seems to be moving.
“One could argue that the McDonnell case itself set up an opportunity for federal prosecutors to be more aggressive."
Kelsey says he’s curious about the timing of the leak.
“It might have been leaked by someone sympathetic to the governor to get it out there and see if the investigation can be quashed."
Perhaps the greatest unknown with any investigation is what might happen with the Supreme Court decision in the McDonnell case, which could redefine the relationship between money and power.