DAYBREAK DAILY: McDonnell approaches tricky legal landscape

ABC7 WEATHER: Mostly cloudy with highs in the mid 20s.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Virginia AG Mark Herring to declare state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional; comprehensive coverage of weather-related havoc; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

ON THE DEFENSE: Of witnesses, per the Virginian-Pilot, “Outlines of Bob McDonnell's defense strategy emerged in two court filings his lawyers made hours after the former Virginia governor and his wife were named Tuesday in a federal indictment alleging they illegally sought to help a donor who gave them expensive gifts. Both motions are procedural in nature - one suggests the feds aren't properly sharing evidence - yet it's clear that part of the plan is to impeach the credibility of key prosecution witnesses, including Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the donor at the center of the scandal.

“Williams was the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., a former tobacco company whose products include a health supplement that federal authorities allege McDonnell and his wife promoted in exchange for more than $135,000 in gifts and loans from Williams. Bob and Maureen McDonnell are expected to appear in federal court in Richmond on Friday for an initial hearing and arraignment. Defense lawyers' request for a one-week postponement was denied Wednesday.”

ON THE ATTACK: Of intent, per the Washington Post, “Prosecutors laid out a startling corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, but the government faces a high bar in proving that the couple committed a crime, legal experts said Wednesday. To make its case, the government must show beyond a reasonable doubt that McDonnell (with wife Maureen as co-conspirator) struck a corrupt bargain with a Richmond businessman who lavished $165,000 in cash and gifts on the McDonnell family. They must deliver evidence that the former governor agreed to provide his official help to Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams in exchange for his largesse.

“The whole case is going to boil down to proving the quid pro quo,” said Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and an expert on public corruption. “They can’t just show that he got these gifts, but must prove that he received them in exchange for official acts. The defense is going to say, ‘Hey, this is what a Virginia governor is supposed to do — promote Virginia businesses.’?” Many legal experts said Wednesday that the coming criminal trial is likely to serve as an important test of the line between political favors and official state action.”

MEANWHILE: Looking to the future, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Less than 24 hours after former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged with violating federal corruption laws, a House panel began molding numerous reform proposals into one piece of legislation meant to tighten the state’s ethics laws. The House Courts of Justice subcommittee on ethics on Wednesday expanded a proposed $250 cap per item on gifts from lobbyists to include gifts from others who have business before the state.

“The panel also fine-tuned the definition of “friend,” proposing that the gift threshold also apply when lawmakers receive gifts from lobbyists they have privately known for a long time. Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, the committee chairman, called Wednesday’s meeting a first step toward crafting new legislation.”

ONE MORE TIME: For Maryland, per the Baltimore Sun, “Gov. Martin O’Malley will deliver the final State of the State speech of his tenure Thursday in an address that recounts his seven years as governor and argues for policies to help the middle class.

“The term-limited O’Malley, who is considering whether to run for president, will reflect on his time in the Governor’s Mansion as period of tough choices and progress during the economic recession, according to a senior O’Malley aide. The governor’s speech will chronicle what he views as his top accomplishments in office, including high-ranked schools and what O’Malley considers a fundamentally different style of governing: setting specific, measurable goals and using data to determine if he met them, the aide said.”

UNDER THE RADAR?: Wait for it, per the T-D, “Attorney General Mark R. Herring will announce today that after a legal review, he has concluded that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. Herring will not defend the constitutionality of the ban in federal court in Norfolk, where two same-sex couples are suing to overturn it, said the spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls.

“The attorney general has concluded that the ban violates the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution on two grounds — one, marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and two, the ban unlawfully discriminates on a basis of sexual orientation and gender,” Qualls said. The two couples — Timothy Bostic and partner Tony C. London of Norfolk and Mary Townley and Carol Schall of Chesterfield County — will have a hearing Jan. 30 before Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.”

NSA: And the beat goes on, per the New York Times, “An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

“The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational. The report is likely to inject a significant new voice into the debate over surveillance, underscoring that the issue was not settled by a high-profile speech President Obama gave last week.

“Mr. Obama consulted with the board, along with a separate review group that last month delivered its own report about surveillance policies. But while he said in his speech that he was tightening access to the data and declared his intention to find a way to end government collection of the bulk records, he said the program’s capabilities should be preserved.”

ABORTION: And marching, per The Hill, “The March for Life on the National Mall thrust the abortion debate squarely into the spotlight on Wednesday. As tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists and politicians gathered in Washington, they also brought with them a new push for the Republican Party to reiterate its opposition to abortion just in time for the 2014 elections.

“They argue that if Republicans push for curbs on abortion that have bipartisan support — like a ban at 20 weeks of gestation, and a ban on sex-selective abortions — they can regain control of the narrative on the issue. But at the same time, more mainstream GOP observers fret that emphasis distracts from what they had hoped was a post-election consensus — stay away from social issues and to try to refocus the debate on the economy, opposition to ObamaCare and the party’s s core fiscal values.”

POLITICO PLAY: “For Matt Bevin, the rookie Senate candidate taking on one of the most powerful Republicans in the country — and possibly the most ruthless — every day on the stump brings a new hazing.

“There was the time before he even jumped into the race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when Bevin was warned he’d be shunned by fellow churchgoers once McConnell was finished making mincemeat of his reputation. Campaign trackers follow Bevin constantly, recording his every public utterance to turn the slightest slip into an attack ad or Web video. Vendors and consultants one day say they’re ready to come on board only to ominously reverse course the next, after mulling the repercussions of crossing McConnell.”

VICE MAYOR: Or something like that, per City Paper, “Muriel Bowser's proposal for a deputy mayor for east of the river issues sounds like the kind of good-government policy no one could disagree with. (Personally, LL will vote for whoever promises to appoint a Deputy Mayor for LL Affairs.) But the deputy mayor position is turning out to be surprisingly controversial.

“Bowser's plan took attacks from three candidates at Saturday's Ward 8 Democrats forum, including rapper Carlos Allen and At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange. "You don’t need no deputy mayor of anybody to come and help you out," Orange told the crowd. "What you need is leadership to get it done."

HIT THE BOOKS: Here’s a dollar, per Gazette.Net, “After years of slashed highway user revenues and a pension shift, Maryland’s local governments could see a bit more state aid headed their way in fiscal 2015. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed $39.2 billion fiscal 2015 budget increases aid to local governments by $183 million, most of that heading to education.

“For Montgomery County, the governor has proposed $885.3 million, an increase of $23.38 million over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The bulk of that increase, or $20 million, will go to educating the county’s students. “I see this budget as a very good starting point for Montgomery County,” County Council President Craig L. Rice said.”

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Wizards lose 113-111 against Boston.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “An 8-year-old boy from Pennsylvania named Tyler Doohan saved six relatives from a burning mobile home. He then went back in to rescue his disabled grandfather, and never made it out.”

NEWSTALK: Among today’s topics (10 a.m., NewsChannel 8) -- A new study looks at how emergency medical care in the D.C. region compares with other cities. We'll talk with Dr. Bill Frohna, head of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

--Skip Wood