How the McDonnell Case Could Impact the Impeachment Process

Nov 22, 2019

Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber, File

The case of former Governor Bob McDonnell might end up playing an important role in the impeachment inquiry now playing out in Washington.

One of the most important outcomes in the prosecution and eventual exoneration of former Governor Bob McDonnell is that bribery became harder to prove in court. Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were unanimous in their decision that when the governor scheduled a meeting with state officials for a wealthy businessman who showered the governor with gifts, that was not an official act.

Jeremey Mayer at George Mason University says that decision helps President Trump.

“It absolutely helps him from a legal perspective," says Mayer. "I’m not sure it helps him from an impeachment perspective very much because as Gerald Ford famously said, an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be.”

Legal expert Rich Kelsey says in a potential Senate trial, the McDonnell case will certainly inform how senators think about bribery. 

“The issue may come down to what constitutes an official act," Kelsey explains. "And I am certainly sure that the Republicans are going to turn around and say well a unanimous Supreme Court has already taken the scheduling of a meeting off the table.”

The precedent set in McDonnell versus the United States has already been used in court. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania judge serving time for corruption asked the court to reconsider his sentence now that the definition of an “official act” had changed.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.