Home Politicians Is Federal Investigation of McDonnell Constitutional?

Is Federal Investigation of McDonnell Constitutional?

321
25
SHARE

According to newspaper accounts, the USDOJ is investigating Governor McDonnell for the following alleged quid pro quo: the Governor used his state power to help promote a Virginia company’s products in exchange for monies tendered in the form of alleged loans and/or gifts. Assuming this quid-pro-quo is the sole basis of the investigation, then I ask: Why is this a matter of federal jurisdiction as opposed to solely 10th amendment state jurisdiction?

Governor McDonnell has no federal power. He is a state official, deriving power from the Virginia constitution. Whatever he allegedly gave sleazy business guy Jonnie Williams involved the trading of state power good only in Virginia. Based on newspaper accounts, these include Mansion events, access to state officials, and the like.

The federales are trying to make a Hobbs Act violation out of what seems to be state activity. The First Lady did travel to Florida to promote a Star Scientific produce, and Johnnie boy did take her on a New York City fashion spree. But unless there is some claim of a interstate conspiracy not reported in the press, these actions had nothing to do with McDonnell.

She is her own person. She isn’t a state official, she has no power herself. Why should there be federal jurisdiction in this matter?  

I know there is due to the Hobbs Act. But this begs the question: Should there be?

If the Governor of Virginia helps a local VA business get some special access/influence/whatever with state government,  why is this a federal crime? Are we in Virginia so pathetic, so in need of help from DC, that we can not be trusted to handle this situation under state law?

Sure, the Congress doesn’t much like, any more than we all do, the possibility of a Governor trading his public position for personal private. But why is it a federal crime?

 

Bottom line: I don’t read the Constitution as intending to give Congress the power to criminalize purely state behavior by a state Governor. There is nothing in the Constitutional debates indicating such an intention. The Constitution is a compact between the states. There would have been no reason for any of the states to agree to such a grant of authority to Washington.

There is no claim in this instance of any need for the federal government to intervene in order to protect the rights of any citizen due to said refusal by the state. There is no claim  McDonnell’s actions relative to helping Williams or Star or whomever adversely affected any tangible federal interest.

The exercise of state power by a Governor doesn’t create federal jurisdiction as a general rule. The Congress decided, through the Hobbs Act, to create a federal crime when a Governor uses such state power to benefit a private entity in exchange for the Governor’s personal gain. While this should be illegal, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it should be illegal as a matter of federal law.

Or put another way: Why should the federal government have the right to criminalize purely state conduct by a state official in terms of the current McDonnell Mess? The state constitution  allows the General Assembly to remove him from office. The prosecuting authorities at the state level are independently elected, they are not beholden to the Governor.

The point being: We don’t need Washington to tell us when our Governor violated the law. We can handle it ourselves; it isn’t that complicated.

  • …I’ve seen little sign that Virginia CAN handle problems like this itself, due mostly to its incredibly lax ethics laws.  As for whether the federal government has the right to get involved, I’ll defer to others more knowledgeable about this than I am, but clearly they ARE involved, and are likely to remain involved…

  • MShapiro

    The Travel Act makes it a Federal crime to break state law if it involves interstate travel. That’s why the Final 4 trip came into play as a topic of the investigation. Otherwise there would be no reason to mention it as it was done via the Governor’s PAC and fully disclosed.

  • DJRippert

    “Are we in Virginia so pathetic, so in need of help from DC, that we can not be trusted to handle this situation under state law?”

    In a word, “yes”.  And I’ve lived here all my life.

    If you really read the history of Virginia’s political class you will fall into a slack jawed, eye popping stupor.

    Just one example …

    In 1924 the Virginia General Assembly passed the Racial Integrity Act.  The goal was to define the ancestry required to be considered “white” vs “colored”.  The test had what was known as the “one drop rule”.  The one drop rule held that a person with even one drop of non-white blood would be considered as colored.  The main reason for the classification was to forbid inter-racial marriage.

    But there was one problem with the law.  The psychos who consider themselves to be “the first families of Virginia” cling to the myth that they are all descended from Pocohontas.  Since Pocohontas was a Native American all of her descendants would have at least one drop of colored blood.  So, an exception was added to the law allowing a person with up to 1/16th Native American ancestry to be considered white and be legally able to marry other white people.  So, the laws in 1924 would have forbidden Pocohontas from marrying John Rolfe in the first place.  And all those so-called descendants of Pocohontas would never have been born.

    When did the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond repeal the law prohibiting mixed race marriage?  They didn’t.  The law was overturned by a US Supreme Court decision (Loving v Virginia) in 1967.  Yes, you read that correctly – 1967.

    One more trivia question – When was the last person forcibly sterilized in Virginia under Virginia’s eugenics law?

    1979.  That’s not a typo – 1979.

    Virginia’s political class has spent the last 400 years proving that they can’t be trusted.

     

  • glennbear

    Or put another way: Why should the federal government have the right to criminalize purely state conduct by a state official in terms of the current McDonnell Mess? The state constitution  allows the General Assembly to remove him from office. The prosecuting authorities at the state level are independently elected, they are not beholden to the Governor

    .

    The chief prosecutor in the state is Cuccinelli who although he may be independently elected has demonstrated a cozy relationship with Williams/Star.

  • The Richmonder

    The Hobbs Act is completely constitutional.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H

  • From the DPVA:

    Ken Cuccinelli’s efforts to distract from his ongoing ethics scandals with Jonnie Williams may have just hit bottom. As the Attorney General continues to refuse to return the value of $18,000 in gifts and trips he took from Star Scientific and Williams, he is now asking for a special session to respond to a scandal that his unethical behavior helped create.

    “Ken Cuccinelli asking for a special session on ethics is like Alex Rodriguez asking Major League Baseball to get steroids out of the game,” said DPVA spokesman Brian Coy. “For Cuccinelli to ask Virginians to take him seriously while he continues to sit on $18,000 in tainted Star Scientific gifts and trips is a brazen act of hypocrisy, even for him.”

  • fendertweed

    I know you’re a better lawyer than that.

    Surely a state official can commit federal crimes.  Don’t you remember the civil rights investigations of the 60s and later?

    I’m surprised that they’re not (and maybe they are) scoping Gov. VagProbe out for indictment for honest services fraud (18 USC 1346), it seems at least as plausible as Hobbs Act violations.

    I don’t buy the extreme Federalism argument you posit.  The Governor of a state can do any number of things that can implicate federal law and to suggest they’re free of federal oversight is specious.

    If a Governor conspired to commit murder and a friendly AG or prosecutor decided to cover it up are you saying there could be no federal prosecution (let’s say it would fall under a civil rights statute)?

    No sale.  No way.  Among other things I would argue that there is an overriding federal interest in honest governance by state officials who are part of the process of funneling and administering billions of dollars of federal funds that go to the state.  And that’s just for starters.

     

  • totallynext

    Thus – a federal case.