Improper Leaks? Judicial Watch Sues DOJ for Details of Leaks against Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Maureen McDonnell
JUNE 10, 2014
Judge set to oversee jury trial cautioned DOJ and McDonnell lawyers, “This case is not going to be tried in the media. The gamesmanship with the media ends now.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on May 16, 2014, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain records of communications regarding the investigation into former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, his wife Maureen, and their financial relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (Judicial Watch v Department of Justice (1:14-cv-00816)).
In January 2014, DOJ indicted McDonnell and his wife for illegally accepting gifts, vacations, loans and the use of a private jet valued at more than $165,000 in exchange for promoting Star Scientific dietary supplement products. The Judicial Watch lawsuit, filed in accordance with a February 10, 2014, FOIA request, seeks the following:
Any and all records of communications between employees of the Office of the Attorney General, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and/or the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs with any third parties regarding the investigation and/or prosecution of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, related to their alleged improper acceptance of gifts and loans from a political donor.
The January 21 DOJ indictment alleged that the McDonnells began their relationship with Williams in March 2009 when Bob McDonnell used Williams’ private jet during his campaign for Governor. Subsequently, the McDonnells allegedly accepted a variety of improper gifts from Williams including a $20,000 New York shopping expedition, a Rolex watch, and $15,000 to cater their daughter Cailin’s wedding. In addition to the gifts, Williams allegedly gave the McDonnells two $50,000 loans to help finance two houses in Virginia Beach.
When McDonnell and his wife pleaded not guilty to the federal corruption charges, U.S. District Court Judge James R. Spencer, who is set to oversee the jury trial scheduled to begin July 28, warned lawyers that anyone continuing to provide unwarranted information to the press could be punished. “This will not be a trial by press conference or press release,” Spencer said. According to a CNS News story at the time, “The warnings underscored the highly public nature of the federal investigation into the McDonnells. Almost all of the relevant details of the government’s case against McDonnell had long been made public through months of news stories based on anonymous sources.”
In their motion for discovery in response to the indictment , McDonnell’s lawyers suggested possible political motivation for the prosecution, noting that there was” a steady stream of negative leaks of confidential information” made public during last year’s gubernatorial contest to succeed McDonnell. They characterized the leaks as “salacious and damaging.”
In a statement following the indictment, McDonnell said that he had been “falsely accused” and that the federal government’s case “rests entirely on a misguided legal theory” that “facilitating an introduction or meeting, appearing at a reception, or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime for an office holder if it involves a political donor or someone who gave a gift or a loan.” According to the Washington Post, Star Scientific received no state grants, contracts or board appointments. And according to the New York Times, “[N]o Virginia laws bar elected officials from taking gifts, nor are there restrictions on what gifts family members of officeholders can take.”
On January 2, 2014, Judicial Watch named McDonnell among its “Dishonorable Mentions” in its list of “The Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians for 2013.” The citation noted that McDonnell had become “the subject of an FBI probe because of his possible quid-pro-quo dealings with Jonnie R. Williams Sr.”
“Whether ex-Governor McDonnell and his wife are guilty or not, the Obama Justice Department can’t break the rules by leaking information for political and other improper reasons,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And it speaks volumes that the Department of Justice has refused to follow the law and respond to our request for information. What is Eric Holder’s Justice Department hiding?”