To convict the McDonnells of bribery, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an "official act" in exchange for the loans and gifts. The parties did not agree, however, on what counts as an "official act." The Government alleged in the indictment, and maintains on appeal, that Governor McDonnell committed at least five "official acts." Those acts included "arranging meetings" for Williams with other Virginia officials to discuss Star Scientific's product, "hosting" events for Star Scientific at the Governor's Mansion, and "contacting other government officials" concerning studies of anatabine. Supp. App. 47-48. The Government also argued more broadly that these activities constituted "official action" because they related to Virginia business development, a priority of Governor McDonnell's administration. Governor McDonnell contends that merely setting up a meeting, hosting an event, or contacting an official--without more--does not count as an "official act."The Court agrees with McDonnell on the main point in a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. To hold otherwise would raise serious First Amendment concerns.
The Court rejects McDonnell's attack on the "honest services" statute as unconstitutionally vague, a holding based in part on the narrow interpretation in the previous part of the opinion.
The Court declines to address McDonnell's "insufficient evidence" claim because the parties have not yet had a chance to address it in light of the Court's clarification of the elements of the offense and therefore leaves that issue to the Court of Appeals on remand. That is important because a reversal on incorrect jury instructions (the main point addressed in today's opinion) permits a retrial, but a reversal on insufficient evidence is effectively an acquittal and precludes retrial.