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A Supreme Court opinion setting aside the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will make it harder for Justice Department prosecutors to bring similar cases in the future and is welcome news to other elected officials investigated for or charged with corruption, legal experts say.

The court unanimously held Monday that the actions McDonnell took to benefit a businessman who gave him luxury gifts may have been distasteful but did not cross the line into illegal conduct.

The decision clarifying the boundaries between illegal conduct and what's merely unseemly will almost certainly be used by other elected officials to argue that they have broader leeway in what's permissible. And it means that prosecutors will have to think twice before charging elected officials simply for arranging access for a friendly benefactor.

"There is no question that this decision will result in a review of the theories that the Justice Department is using in open prosecutions as well as ongoing investigations," said Jacob Frenkel, a white-collar defense lawyer in Washington and former prosecutor. He predicted that in ongoing prosecutions, defense lawyers will seek to get charges dismissed because of Monday's decision.




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