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The Supreme Court Redraws the Lines for Corruption Prosecutions

June 29, 2016, Covington Alert

The Ferrari carrying former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell appears to have made a U-turn this week on its way to the federal penitentiary. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court set a new standard for federal corruption cases as it vacated Governor McDonnell’s conviction. McDonnell v. United States, 579 U.S. ___ (June 27, 2016). The court held that a public official does not violate federal law simply by taking a benefit in exchange for arranging a meeting with or providing access to public officials and employees, or asking those employees to consider an issue. Instead, the official must take action or make a decision—or agree to do so—on a specific and focused matter that involves a formal exercise of government power, including advising or pressuring others to take an action or make a decision. But, as described below, the consequences of McDonnell should not be exaggerated.

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