McDonnell Verdicts May Spur Similar Trials; Judge Expanded What 'Official Acts' Constitute, Experts Say—The Washington Post
With his federal trial now over and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell likely heading off to prison, the nation must now ask: Is it time to indict President Obama?
The question arises because Obama has done much of what McDonnell did, and in some cases to a greater degree. Let's compare and contrast.
McDonnell: The heart of the case against McDonnell was this: He used the power of his office to help a benefactor, Jonnie Williams Sr., by promoting Williams' product—Anatabloc—and arranging meetings between Williams and state officials.
As many news services noted, prosecutors pressed McDonnell about one telling sequence of events in which he asked Williams about a $50,000 loan and then, six minutes later, emailed a staffer, "Pls see me about anatabloc issues at VCU and UVA. Thx."
That looks pretty bad. But then so does this:
Obama: In May of 2011, Washington lawyer Antoinette Bush met with Obama officials and a Hollywood lobbyist at the White House to discuss concerns raised by the entertainment industry. As reported several months later, Ms. Bush and her husband "have donated heavily to the president's re-election effort: Mr. Bush gave $35,800 on the day of his wife's White House meeting last year."
That was from a New York Times story: "White House Opens Door to Big Donors, and Lobbyists Slip In," which found a clear correlation between the size of a donation and the donor's access to the Obama White House. The story also noted that donor gifts were "sometimes given in close proximity to meetings."
McDonnell: One of the more damning witnesses for the prosecution was Bill Hazel, Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Resources. Regarding Anatabloc, he declared on the witness stand that "I won't even put the stuff in my mouth." Still, he met with Williams because the governor wanted him to. As The Times-Dispatch reported, Hazel got "a request in a late-night email from McDonnell to send a representative to a meeting at the Executive Mansion with Williams and the first lady." The meeting was set for the day after the McDonnells came back from a stay at Williams' Smith Mountain Lake estate. Despite it, Williams failed to persuade state officials to include Anatabloc in the formulary of medicinals covered by the state employee health plan.
That sounds like another passage from the Times story:
Obama: "Dr. William C. Mohlenbrock, chairman of a health care data analysis firm . . . contributed the maximum allowable gift, $35,800, to the Obama Victory Fund. . . . Later in the year . . . he landed a meeting with a top White House aide involved in the health care overhaul, but failed to persuade Medicare officials to require more health data collection as part of the new regulations. Joe E. Kiani, who heads a medical device company, Masimo Corporation, stepped up his giving to Democrats last year as medical device makers campaigned unsuccessfully for the repeal of an excise tax imposed on the industry. Mr. Kiani had several meetings with White House officials last year. . . . In the midst of these gatherings, he donated $35,800 to the victory fund."
McDonnell: In 2011, Williams pressed for—and got—a launch party for Anatabloc at the Executive Mansion. McDonnell made an appearance at the event. As news stories noted, "prosecutors say it is one of the prime examples of an 'official act' that the first couple performed for Williams."
Obama: Just two months before McDonnell was indicted, The Washington Post reported on a public visit the president made to DreamWorks animation. The company is headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg. As the Post reported, "Katzenberg ranks among the president's most valuable political donors and fundraisers, jumping in early to raise money for his first White House bid and pulling in more than $500,000 in donations in both 2008 and 2012." The story quotes Bill Allison, editorial director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, who called the DreamWorks appearance "payback."
At this point Democratic partisans might raise a key distinction: Obama's benefactors all contributed to his campaign coffers, while Jonnie Williams gave money to the McDonnells personally. But as the McDonnell legal team noted back in January, "federal law makes clear that quid pro quos can just as easily come in the form of campaign donations as personal gifts."
Indeed. Four years ago Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was tried (and convicted) on corruption charges for trying to sell an appointment to Obama's vacant Senate seat. News stories reported that "prosecutors said (Blagojevich) had sought personal gain—campaign donations, especially—in exchange for" the appointment and other official acts. Campaign donations, especially.
During the McDonnell trial, Williams explained why he let the governor use his private jet: "If you're a Virginia company, you want to make sure you have access to these people. He's a politician, I'm a businessman." No doubt former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy would agree. Explaining why he gave $35,800 to Obama's re-election bid at the same time he was trying to get the administration to help his nonprofit, Kennedy told The New York Times that's just "how this business works. If you want to call it quid pro quo, fine."
Any thoughts on that, Eric Holder?