If New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joins the gaggle of Democrats running for president, he will stand out as the only one who flouted federal law so often and so flagrantly that prosecutors felt compelled to publicly explain why they had not gone ahead and locked him up.
The March 2017 statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan announced:
“We have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors,” the statement reported.
Note the absence of the word “alleged.”
The pay-to-play operation—which involved everything from a contract for mint-scented, rat-resistant trash bags to multimillion-dollar real estate deals—is stated as fact. The statement goes on to explain why the prosecutor had decided “not to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf.”
“In considering whether to charge individuals with serious public corruption crimes, we take into account, among other things, the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit,” it says.
Those “changes in the law” included a U.S Supreme Court decision in June of the year before, which vacated the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who had accepted a $175,000 loan and various gifts from a dietary supplement manufacturer that sought state assistance in testing and marketing his product.
The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who explained: “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption.”
In short, just arranging a meeting in exchange for a gift does not constitute corruption under the more narrow definition. The accused must have performed an official act such as can be placed on an agenda or memorialized in the record.
That narrower definition of corruption came when the feds in New York were eight months into investigating de Blasio. They felt they were well on the way to making a case.
“The government was lusting, lusting to get de Blasio,” an attorney for a big donor who was repeatedly questioned by the feds told The Daily Beast.
But in instances such as the mint-scented rat-repellent trash bags, de Blasio had simply granted a meeting with parks department officials and facilitated a field test.
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