Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, are battling a 14-count public corruption indictment that alleges that they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to a Richmond area businessman and that, in exchange, the businessman lavished them with gifts and money.
Week five of the trial will begin just as week four ended — with former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell on the witness stand, making a pitch that he hopes will keep him and his wife out of federal prison.
McDonnell’s attorney finished questioning the one-time Republican rising star Friday, but McDonnell’s testimony is far from finished. His wife’s attorneys will have a chance to question him, though their inquiries will likely be friendly and brief. Then prosecutors will take their turn. Experts say how he responds to their pointed questions — which are sure to be aimed at inconsistencies and implausibilities in the narrative he has given — will play a major role in deciding the former governor’s fate.
“That’s when the trial starts,” said Kelly Kramer, a white collar criminal defense lawyer at the Mayer Brown firm.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had predicted before the proceedings began that the trial would last about five weeks. Though the end is in sight, it is unclear whether that estimate will prove correct. McDonnell’s defense attorneys could call more witnesses when the former governor himself is done testifying, and Maureen McDonnell’s attorneys will have a chance to put on their own case. Then prosecutors can present so-called “rebuttal witnesses” to bat down particular aspects of the defense case. After that, the judge will instruct jurors on the law, the parties will deliver closing arguments and deliberations will begin.
The proceedings are set to resume at 9:45 a.m. Monday.
Defense attorneys for former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell have renewed their calls to exclude evidence that McDonnell accepted an expensive island vacation from a Henrico hotelier with University of Virginia ties, arguing that the trip does not prove the point prosecutors had hoped it would.
The trip at issue is a May 2012 getaway to Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, paid for by U-Va. Board of Visitors Vice Rector and Henrico hotelier William H. Goodwin Jr. It was valued at about $23,000. McDonnell listed the vacation on a draft state economic disclosure form but then took it off of the final version — apparently deciding that it need not be listed because Goodwin was a personal friend.
Defense attorneys had moved to have the trip excluded from evidence, arguing that it had nothing to do with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and would unfairly prejudice jurors. U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ultimately ruled, though, that prosecutors could present it to show that McDonnell knew that he need not report gifts from personal friends and used that justification to avoid reporting gifts from Williams. That might speak to McDonnell’s “alleged intent to defraud,” Spencer wrote.
McDonnell’s testimony last week, though, threw a wrench in the mix. The governor testified that in 2011, Williams was not a personal friend, and gifts the businessman gave him — namely, two golf outings and a Notre Dame golf bag — should have been disclosed. He testified that the following year, he disclosed a vacation to Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod despite the fact that he now considered Williams a friend.
Defense attorneys argued in a filing that because of that, the Goodwin trip should now be excluded.
“Under the Court’s July 17 opinion, the Goodwin evidence is only relevant to support the Government’s assertion that ‘omission of gifts from Williams pursuant to the personal friend exception’ was intentional and not by mistake,” defense attorneys wrote. “But as explained above, there is no evidence of any ‘omission of gifts from Williams pursuant to the personal friend exception.’ To the contrary, Mr. McDonnell has now explained that he never invoked the personal-friend exception to avoid disclosing gifts from Mr. Williams.”
The judge had yet to rule on the request as of Monday morning, and prosecutors had yet to respond. It remains unclear how it could be handled. Prosecutors have seen mention of the Goodwin gift on McDonnell’s draft forms, but they have not heard many details about the trip itself. Prosecutors did not call Goodwin to testify as part of their case.
Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer William Burck has begun his cross-examination of former governor Robert F. McDonnell with a pointed reminder to jurors that the “marriage was crumbling” defense is a joint one being offered by both the former governor and his wife, Maureen McDonnell.
“Last week, you testified quite a bit about about your marriage. And I have a few questions for you about that,” he began his inquiries for the day.
First, he brought up the deeply personal e-mail that McDonnell wrote to his wife in September 2011, begging her to help him save the marriage. Burck highlighted the box that shows the coding on the exhibit and got McDonnell to confirm: That coding indicates that the e-mail was turned over to the government by Maureen McDonnell and her lawyers, rather than by the governor himself.
Then he quoted from several lines of the note, asking McDonnell, when he wrote that his wife had shown “fiery anger and hate,” did she act like that to the governor? “Yes,” he said.
Did she in fact tell McDonnell that she would break his things, as the letter indicated? Almost whispering, McDonnell responded, “yes.”
Burck asked McDonnell, did it seem like she had legitimate reasons for that kind of anger? “It didn’t seem that way to me,” he said.
“Did the reaction seem normal or abnormal to you, as her husband?” Burck asked.
“This did not seem normal in an objective sense,” McDonnell replied. “They would be about little things that would not bother a lot of people.”
Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell received mental health counseling and medication in 2012, her husband testified Monday.
The revelation by former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell came during pointed questioning of his wife’s defense attorney, William Burck. It could help the couple collectively beat the public corruption charges they face. If jurors believe Maureen McDonnell was mentally unstable, they might believe she was unable to conspire with her husband to seek the largesse of Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. or form the necessary corrupt intent to substantiate the criminal charges.
Burck began his questioning of the former governor Monday by probing deeply and personally about the McDonnells’ marriage. He asked McDonnell about problems the first lady had with her staff, and why McDonnell kept his own problems with his wife secret. “I didn’t think I needed to tell them about my own marital issues,” the former governor said. Burck asked McDonnell whether had had done enough to help the first lady’s staffers with their boss. “I wish I would have been able to do more,” the former governor said.
And he asked McDonnell, finally, whether he had done enough with his own wife.
“I should’ve done more there, too,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell eventually acknowledged that his wife was receiving mental health counseling in 2012, though she was initially resistant to the idea. He said she also received medication. He did not offer more details.
McDonnell’s voice sounds hoarse Monday morning, either because he is battling a cold, because the intensely personal questioning has left him with a lump in his throat, or both. At one point, Judge James R. Spencer interrupted the questioning to say, “Would you speak up?”
McDonnell did, but his voice still sounded raspy, and he cleared his throat several times as he continued talking.
Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer William Burck is now asking former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell a series of questions that seemed designed to show how often his own client was operating behind her husband’s back.
While unflattering, these questions are designed to help attack prosecutors’ allegations that the McDonnells were engaged in a conspiracy to exchange the prestige of his office for gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. Each instance in which Maureen McDonnell acted without her husband’s knowledge lends credence to the idea that she had her own budding relationship with the businessman.
To that end, Burck has reviewed with McDonnell the sequence of events involved when the first lady purchased stock in Williams’s company, Star Scientific. Under questioning, McDonnell has testified for the second time that he did not know that his wife bought $30,000 worth of Star Stock on June 1, 2011, until five days later. At that time, he said, he believed she had placed the shares in the names of their children — indeed, on July 6, she presented daughter Cailin with a handmade stock certificate as a wedding gift.
The two fought over the decision, McDonnell said, in part because if she purchased stock, it would need to be reported on his financial disclosure forms at the end of the year. “It was her money, I respected that,” he said. “But she couldn’t do things without telling me because I had to make sure I was making the reports accurate at the beginning of the next year,” he said.
McDonnell likewise said he did not know that his wife bought 500 more shares of Star Scientific stock in August 2011. He said he learned in November that she had not moved her shares into her children’s names, as she had promised, and he was angry again. He said he advised her to sell the stock, the value of which had plummeted.
“Despite the fact that you said that to her, she didn’t want to sell the stock, did she?” Burck asked.
“That was very clear to me,” McDonnell said.
Still, he said he believed she ultimately agreed to do it and only learned months later that it had taken her until Dec. 20, 2011, to complete the sale.
Maureen McDonnell then repurchased her shares — right after McDonnell filed his annual disclosure statement — in January 2012. He said she did not tell him of that purchase.
“Did you find out about it the next month?” Burck asked.
“No,” he said, indicating that he did not learn about it until Christmas 2012.
Maureen McDonnell repurchased the shares on the same day she flew with Williams to South Carolina to attend a rally for Mitt Romney, Burck pointed out.
Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney William Burck is asking questions to stress that his client had an important hand in negotiating the $50,000 loan made by businessman Jonnie Williams to MoBo Real Estate, the partnership owned by former governor Bob McDonnell and his sister.
Ultimately, McDonnell said, he negotiated the terms of the loan. But, he said, it was his wife who first got Williams to agree to make the loan. And throughout, she showed unhappiness when her role in the process wasn’t acknowledged.
“You knew she wanted to be involved?” Burck asked.
“Yes,” the former governor said.
Under questioning from his own defense attorney, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell emphasized the dealings his wife had with Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. that he did not know about.
Under questioning from his wife’s attorney, he is acknowledging several occasions in which he and Williams talked without the first lady’s involvement.
The acknowledgments are important for Maureen McDonnell, in particular, because prosecutors’ clearest path to convicting her requires that they prove she conspired with her husband. If jurors decide that the former governor had his own corrupt quid pro quo with the businessman — and his wife’s dealings were separate and not part of any conspiracy — they might convict McDonnell and acquit his wife. They also might acquit both, if they determine that there was no conspiracy and nothing corrupt about any of the dealings.
Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck first asked McDonnell about a March 10, 2012, conversation he had with Williams about calling the businessman’s father for his 80th birthday. Text messages show the governor texted Williams to fill him in on how the call went, and Williams responded with a thank you.
Maureen McDonnell was not involved.
Burck then asked McDonnell about a series of texts in July 2012 arranging a vacation to Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod.
Again, the first lady was not involved.
To drive home the point, Burck showed the former governor a July 15, 2012, conversation in which Williams appeared to text him a picture of a trophy. At Burck’s questioning, McDonnell testified that Williams’s son had won the trophy in some type of tennis tournament in Florida. Burck asked whether by this point, the governor’s friendship with Williams existed outside of Williams’s friendship with Maureen McDonnell.
The governor said it did.
Burck then showed McDonnell more text conversations the two men had in September 2012, talking about golf outings and vacations that never actually happened.
“All the texts that we’ve been looking at, Mrs. McDonnell’s not on any of them, is she?” Burck asked.
The governor confirmed she was not.
Robert and Maureen McDonnell are both charged with a count of bank fraud related to an application they jointly signed to Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which omitted reference to loans from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. under a section for liabilities. (The former governor is also charged with a second count dealing with a different application that came under only his name.)
Under questioning from the former first lady’s attorney William Burck, McDonnell has testified that his wife had no role in preparing that document. He said he cannot recall asking her to review the application or that she ever did so.
That could be an especially helpful tidbit for his wife because the charge requires an intent element. It’s not enough for prosecutors to show that the application was missing information. They must prove that the couple purposely omitted information with the intent of influencing the bank. If Maureen McDonnell was totally unaware of the documents, then it might be difficult for her to be convicted of the charge.
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell testified that he and his wife had very little conversation about Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s company, Star Scientific, and its interactions with state government.
Under questioning from Maureen McDonnell’s attorney William Burck, McDonnell repeatedly said the two did not discuss various important events to the prosecution’s case. This line of questioning was intended to attack prosecutor’s allegations that the two conspired to help Star Scientific.
For instance, McDonnell said he never told his wife when he asked Secretary of Health Bill Hazel to meet with Williams in November 2010.
Likewise, he said he and his wife had no conversation when he decided to send an official from Hazel’s office to “monitor” a meeting between the first lady and Williams, sending the note requesting the official attend the night before the Aug. 1, 2011, meeting. “My wife might have been in bed already,” McDonnell testified.
He said he discussed a Star Scientific event his wife was hosting Aug. 30, 2011, with his traveling aide Adam Zubowsky. “I don’t remember talking about it with my wife,” he recalled.
Again, he said he can’t remember talking to his wife about her concerns that Williams was having trouble getting calls returned at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University about research studies on his new dietary supplement he was trying to get launched.
McDonnell suggested that he knew that only from a one-line e-mail Maureen McDonnell sent both to him and a top aide complaining about the issue. Never, he said, did his wife urge or press him to look into the issue, he testified.
Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck has finished his questioning of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell. Now prosecutors will get to take their turn.
Burck finished his inquiry by asking about the first lady’s reaction after she was interviewed by law enforcement Feb. 15, 2013. The governor has testified previously that both he and his wife were angry and felt that state police had lied about the interview’s premise.
Burck asked the former governor: Did Maureen McDonnell say, when she and her husband discussed the interview just hours after it happened, that she was worried that she or the governor himself had done something wrong?
“No,” McDonnell said.
Burck also pressed a more specific point about Maureen McDonnell having told the investigators she had documents to accompany her $50,000 loan from Williams, when in fact she did not. At Burck’s questioning, McDonnell testified that his wife asked him about those documents after the interview, then wanted to call the investigators to correct herself and say they did not exist. He said he advised his wife not to take any action until they could consult a lawyer.
Burck concluded his questioning of McDonnell with a series of pointed questions about whether Maureen McDonnell had ever told her husband “that she wanted him to do something to help Jonnie Williams in exchange for the gifts and loans and other things of value that he provided to your family.”
The former governor said she did not.