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Judge Refuses To Drop Charges Against Former Va. Gov. McDonnell

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, arrive at court in Richmond, Va., on Monday.
Steve Helber
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, arrive at court in Richmond, Va., on Monday.

A federal judge refused to drop corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

The case centers on the question of whether the Republican abused his office by doing favors for Jonnie Williams, a former CEO of the dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., who had given the couple more than $165,000 in gifts.

Shortly after he left office in January, McDonnell and his wife were charged with 14 counts, including conspiracy and wire fraud.

Federal prosecutors argue that this is a clear case of graft, with the McDonnells "lining their pockets," as Ryan Faulconer, an assistant U.S. attorney, has put it.

The defense contends that prosecutors are attempting to criminalize normal political activity, such as the McDonnells hosting a reception for Williams at the governor's mansion and setting up meetings for him with other state officials. Those do not constitute "official acts" under federal bribery statutes, they argued at a hearing on Monday.

But U.S. District Judge James Spencer denied motions on Tuesday to drop the charges.

"Whether defendants' conduct in fact constituted 'the corruption of official positions through misuse of influence in governmental decision-making' is a question for the jury," the judge wrote in his ruling.

He also turned back a motion that the couple be tried separately.

"Defendants have failed to meet their burden to show that a joint trial will result in a miscarriage of justice or prevent Robert McDonnell from receiving a fair trial," Spencer wrote.

The trial is scheduled to begin July 28.

"Barring a last-minute plea bargain, we're headed toward a four-to-six week trial this summer that will be a spectacle," says Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia. "The McDonnells have reportedly already refused a plea deal early on, but that doesn't remove the possibility later."

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Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.
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