Home Politicians Is Federal Investigation of McDonnell Constitutional?

Is Federal Investigation of McDonnell Constitutional?


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.


Sign up for the Blue Virginia weekly newsletter

Previous articleVirginia News Headlines: Monday Morning
Next articleSupporting Virginia’s Children