By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
“The verdict today completely exonerating the defendants finally exposes what should have been self-evident, namely the Obama Administration’s abuse of power through United States Attorney General Eric Holder to destroy Bob McDonnell, the most popular GOP chief executive in any swing state and likely 2016 presidential contender.”
This is going to be a key storyline in news reports, especially in the Republican leaning media and the political line coming from ever single GOP political “spin doctor,” if the jury returns a not guilty verdict on all 14 indictment counts.
Most in the media have been writing former governor McDonnell’s political obituary. That’s understandable given the situation, but no one has been willing to consider this possibility: Attorney General Eric Holder’s weak public image may not withstand such a not guilty verdict.
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Savage, Laura Ingram and posse on conservative talk radio will turn former governor McDonnell into the poster boy/victim for everything they have been saying about the president and his party. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Republican National Committee flew McDonnell around the country during the upcoming 2014 midterm elections to speak at key party rallies.
An incumbent president’s party historically faces an uphill electoral fight in the sixth year of his term. A key reason is out-party loyalists tend to be significantly more motivated to vote. Therefore party strategists look for every issue to stir the “send them a message” emotion.
Before the story broke about the federal investigation, McDonnell’s name appeared on every 2016 presidential year contender’s list. The conservative governor had record high approval ratings for a Virginia Republican, the best of any GOP chief executive in a key swing state.
Then, boom. As the GOP political consultants will spin the story, the Obama Administration leaked their false accusations to the “liberal Washington Post," literally a curse word on conservative talk radio. It will be great political theatre. It will help in November when turnout among registered voters will be barely half of the 2012 voting participation.
If, the jury returns a not guilty verdict on all 14 counts.
McDonnell’s fate - financially ruined, politically toxic, personally destroyed, yet legally exonerated -- will resonate with many independents and most Republicans almost certain to view the former first couple as political martyrs. Neither the DOJ, Mr. Holder, much less the White House, are permitted to question the acquittal. This makes perfect legal and common sense: the accused at all times entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Could the McDonnells sue for damages claiming they were politically targeted for persecution, not prosecution? Anyone can sue anybody, but they aren’t going to win. Accordingly, they might find a high-profile GOP law firm willing to take their case and threaten to sue, but that’s where it will stop, although the tabloids will run with it.
The aftermath of any acquittal will thus be fought in the political arena, not in a courtroom. If there is a full not guilty on everything verdict.
Since this is a purely circumstantial case, such a verdict is possible, especially if jurors react badly to what they regard as the government’s questionable tactic of making a deal with Jonnie Williams. The prosecution’s key witness conceded to be a cunning “criminal” by U.S. Attorney Michael Dry. The charmingly cagey conman is the key wild card among the 67 witnesses. The “not guilty by reason of marriage meltdown” defense theory is the key strategy wild card.
Jurors are human. We humans can have unpredictable reactions in these kinds of high pressure legal proceedings. As Sherlock Holmes said, circumstantial cases can produce widely different reactions depending on a small shift in how one views the evidence.
Bottom line: Attorney General Eric Holder may be a dead man walking, at least politically. Should the Republicans win back control of the Senate, they will surely use such an acquittal to threaten an investigation into the DOJ over the situation. Holder would realize this could only hurt him and the President. Why let the GOP do it?
This is all a big "if" right now, but Mr. Holder will be anxiously checking his smart phone all week.