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U.S. Supreme Court: Gov. McDonnell Avoids Prison Stay — For Now

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell will not have to report to prison while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to hear an appeal of his corruption conviction.

Under a brief order issued today, McDonnell is freed from a lower court's directive that required him to report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his two-year sentence.

McDonnell's lawyers have said they will ask the Supreme Court to reverse his conviction or order a new trial. In court filings they have called the case "an extraordinarily high-profile political prosecution."

Today's order allows him to remain free until the court acts on the appeal, which could take several months.

His lawyers claim in court documents that McDonnell was unfairly prosecuted for the kind of constituent service that officers holders normally provide.

"Elected officials routinely arrange meetings for donors, give them heightened access to staff, take their calls, politely listen to their ideas, and engage in all sorts of other 'customary' actions on their behalf."

McDonnell was convicted of accepting thousands of dollars worth of cash and gifts in return for helping a Virginia businessman promote diet supplements made from tobacco.

The Justice Department has argued that prosecutors didn't have to prove that McDonnell actually took official action, only that he and the businessman had an agreement that McDonnell would take action to help.

Even so, government lawyers say, prosecutors went further and proved that the governor did, in fact, take those actions.