By ROBERT BARNES, Washington Post, April 25
Along with the state officials and law professors who are happy that the Supreme Court this week is reviewing the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, add inmate No. 24775-001 at the federal prison in Oakdale, La.
He is otherwise known as Don E. Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, whom many of those same people supported when the justices decided — twice — that his conviction did not warrant an extended review.
“I’m not the slightest bit bitter about that at all,” Siegelman said last week in a telephone interview from prison. “I’m delighted that the court has taken the McDonnell case, and I’m hopeful the court will clarify what constitutes political quid pro quo bribery.”
Most convicted politicians who ask the Supreme Court for relief — former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and former congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana being just recent examples — meet fates similar to Siegelman’s.
But the longtime Alabama officeholder was the cause celebre — still is, really — for those who believe vague federal corruption laws give politically ambitious prosecutors too much leeway in deciding what and whom to investigate. Such questions about political influence are only likely to grow as relaxed campaign contribution laws give rise to a new galaxy of individual mega-donors.
While the Supreme Court never accepted Siegelman’s case for full briefing, McDonnell grabbed the brass ring twice.
Not only is the court reviewing his 2014 conviction in its last oral argument of the term Wednesday, but the justices intervened at the final hour last fall to keep McDonnell from having to report to prison while the legal drama played out.
That was something the court had never done before, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the justices before they acted.
But McDonnell and his supporters said the circumstances of his conviction — he, his wife and family received $177,000 in luxury items, vacations and loans from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., although there was no direct evidence McDonnell ordered state officials to take actions that Williams wanted — demanded high-court review.
“This case marks 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,” Washington lawyer Noel Francisco, representing McDonnell, wrote in his brief to the court.
“Quid pro quo” translates from the Latin to “something for something.” McDonnell’s attorneys acknowledge the governor got something — Virginia’s laws did not forbid the gifts — but said he gave nothing.