Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber got some good news today, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, in a decision the Washington Post said "would make it harder to prosecute public officials for alleged wrongdoing."
McDonnell, once a rising national GOP star, and his wife were convicted in 2014 after federal prosecutors showed they accepted more than $175,000 in cash and other benefits from a businessman who wanted help promoting a tobacco-based dietary supplement.
The case included a gift of a Rolex watch; the use of the businessman's Ferrari and cash payments to the governor's wife, who felt her wardrobe was not commensurate with her position.
But today, in a decision that could have impact on the pending federal investigation of Kitzhaber and former first lady Cylvia Hayes, the nation's highest court narrowed the parameters under which prosecutors can go after public officials.
At issue in Oregon is whether Hayes, who ran a private consulting business out of the governor's office while also serving as a senior policy advisor to Kitzhaber, used her access to Kitzhaber to benefit them both financially. Hayes received nearly $250,000 in consulting fees from groups seeking to influence government policy in Oregon and elsewhere, raising questions about whether she and Kitzhaber, who shared a common household, had broken federal law.
The FBI, which has been investigating the case since late 2014, has never said exactly what its looking at or whether it has any timetable for concluding its probe.
Here's how the Post characterized today's decision in the Virginia case.
In Monday’s ruling, [Chief Justice John] Roberts wrote: “Setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’”
He said that for prosecutors to prevail, they must identify a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” that “may at any time be pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official.
Secondly, the government must prove that the public official made a decision or took an action “on” that question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding, or controversy, or agreed to do so, Roberts wrote.
“The issue here is whether arranging a meeting, contacting another official, or hosting an event — without more — can be a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,’ and if not, whether it can be a decision or action on a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.’”