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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in McDonnell's Corruption Case

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Justices hearing arguments concerning Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his public corruption convictions (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy). Justices hearing arguments concerning Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his public corruption convictions (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy).
Maureen and Bob McDonnell at the U.S. Supreme Court (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy). Maureen and Bob McDonnell at the U.S. Supreme Court (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy).
Justices hearing arguments concerning Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his public corruption convictions (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy). Justices hearing arguments concerning Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his public corruption convictions (Image courtesy Bill Hennessy).
Bob McDonnell speaking to the media outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Bob McDonnell speaking to the media outside of the U.S. Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, DC (WVIR) -

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up former Governor Bob McDonnell's appeal of his public corruption convictions.

McDonnell arrived in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning with his attorneys and some family members for the final arguments. His team is arguing the federal bribery laws over reach, putting every politician at risk of prosecution for normal, everyday actions.

The eight justices will now consider whether to grant McDonnell a new trial, or strike his convictions.

In September of 2014, a jury found McDonnell and his wife Maureen guilty of taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Star Scientific businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his products.

McDonnell claims his actions in setting up meetings for Williams was part of the customary duties governors perform for constituents.

"As I've said for the last 39 months, never, during any time in my 38 years of public service have I ever done anything that would abuse the powers of my office," said the former governor outside of the Supreme Court.

The prosecution argues the McDonnells crossed the line by promoting state research for Williams. The businessman sought - and Maureen McDonnell advocated - having Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia conduct tests on Star Scientific's vitamin supplements.

Bob McDonnell was found guilty on 11 counts of public corruption and was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by two years of supervised probation.

Maureen McDonnell was found guilty on nine counts of public corruption and received a prison term of a year and one day.

They have both been appealing those convictions. A three judge panel of the federal appeals court unanimously upheld the former governor's convictions last year.

It will now be up to the justices to decide whether or not to place new limits on federal bribery laws for public officials.
The nation's highest court could also uphold the rulings of lower courts, but several justices seemed to think McDonnell's case overextended federal bribery law. For example, Justice Breyer said in court, if there's not more legal clarity this could lead to more prosecutors across the country having too much power over elected officials.

"The danger for others is it's too vague basically for them to understand exactly where the line is in terms of quid pro quo bribery," said Hank Asbill, McDonnell's attorney.

Legal experts say a decision from the Supreme Court could come down by June.