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Updates: Day 14 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 14, 2014
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Steve Earley)

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Steve Earley)

Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, are battling a 14-count public corruption indictment that alleges they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to a Richmond area businessman, and in exchange, the businessman lavished them with gifts and money. Jurors on Thursday resumed hearing testimony from witnesses during a trial in federal court in Richmond.

 Interactive: McDonnell gifts list | Twitter: Latest | Previous days: The trial | Photos Indictment

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Judge James R. Spencer has sent jurors home for the weekend, telling them that he and the lawyers have “some legal stuff” to do on Friday.

That would include hearing a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the federal corruption case against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, and a hearing on a motion by lawyers for The Washington Post to release of questionnaires filed by jurors prior to their selection.

“Get some rest and be kind to yourselves,” Spencer told jurors. “I wish I could go with you, but we’ll be working.  Be safe, be blessed and we will see you again on Monday at 9:45 a.m.”

We’ll be in court for tomorrow’s motions hearings and report all news at the Washington Post, but we will likewise see you back here on the live blog for the opening of the defense case on Monday.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Judge James R. Spencer has sent jurors home for the weekend, telling them that he and the lawyers have “some legal stuff” to do Friday.

That would include hearing a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the federal corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, and a hearing on a motion by lawyers for The Washington Post to release questionnaires filed by jurors prior to their selection.

“Get some rest and be kind to yourselves,” Spencer told jurors. “I wish I could go with you, but we’ll be working.  Be safe, be blessed and we will see you again on  Monday at 9:45 a.m.”

We’ll be in court for tomorrow’s motions hearings and report all news at The Washington Post, but we will likewise see you back here on the live blog for the opening of the defense case Monday.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Just minutes after 4 p.m., federal prosecutors rested their public corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

The move came just after Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer finished questioning FBI Special Agent David Hulser, who essentially summarized the case to jurors.

“Anything else from the government?” U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer asked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry stood. “The United States rests,” ​he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

During his cross-examination of FBI agent David Hulser, Bob McDonnell’s lawyer suggested that the reason the governor held so much credit card debt when he took office in January 2010 was that he had left his job as attorney general early the previous year to run for governor.

Indeed, walking into court this morning, McDonnell told waiting television reporters who asked about his debt that running for governor is tough.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer, who has returned to question Hulser on redirect examination, showed Hulser a copy of McDonnell’s W-2 tax record for 2009. That was the year of his campaign, and it showed that McDonnell was paid nearly $130,000 by the law firm where he had been employed before his election as attorney general in that year.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

U.S. District Judge James Spencer seems to be growing impatient with both sides, prosecution and defense, over the trial’s slow pace.

As Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck neared the end of his questioning of an FBI agent expected to be prosecutors’ last witness,  the judge appeared frustrated.  At one point, Burck questioned Special Agent David Hulser about the inferences he intended jurors to draw from a chart he had prepared.

“Don’t ask a ridiculous question,” the judge said, upholding an objection. Later, the judge sided with more prosecution objections as Burck peppered the agent with questions about items he had not included on a different chart.

When Burck finished, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer told the judge his own questioning was “going to take more than a few minutes” and asked if Spencer would like to take a break.

“You’re breaking my heart,” the judge replied, ordering a brief recess.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

With his final question to FBI Special Agent David Hulser, Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney took aim at the bevy of charts prosecutors have presented to demonstrate the largess the governor and his wife received — and got right to the heart of the defense.

“Is there a government exhibit for all the things that Governor McDonnell is supposed to have given Jonnie Williams? Do you have a chart for that? William Burck asked.

“There’s no chart for that,” Hulser responded.

The short exchange offers a glimpse into what will likely be the crux of the defense’s case, which is expected to begin Monday. While the governor and his wife might not be able to deny all the things they received from Williams, they can present evidence that they never did anything “official” on the businessman’s behalf — a point prosecutors must prove to win a conviction.

Burck’s cross examination of Hulser has now concluded, and prosecutors will get another opportunity to question their summary witness after a short break.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

When he was on the witness stand, Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. testified that when he was at a California jeweler purchasing a Rolex watch at Maureen McDonnell’s request, he called the first lady to ask what she wanted engraved on the timepiece. She requested that it say, “71st Governor of Virginia.”

But her defense attorney, William Burck, may have scored a point with jurors by getting FBI Special Agent David Hulser to acknowledge that there is no record of a phone call between Williams and Maureen McDonnell on Aug. 14, 2011 — the day Williams’s credit card records show he bought the watch.

Still, Hulser noted that he did not know what day Williams actually ordered the watch: Did he go to the store one day, place an order for the engraving and pick it up another day? He said records do not reveal what happened. He noted that there were both phone calls and text messages recorded between the two in the days both before and after Aug. 14.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney William Burck, who represents Maureen McDonnell, questioned FBI Special Agent David Hulser about why he didn’t include references to Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff on various charts he prepared for the jury.

For instance, on one chart for July 28, 2011, Hulser showed that Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams exchanged 11 text messages. But on that same day, chief of staff Mary-Shea Sutherland exchanged four texts with Williams.

Burck also noted several other charts that didn’t include Sutherland’s phone calls. Burck has repeatedly suggested during testimony that Sutherland was engineering assistance for Williams while also negotiating to obtain a job with him.

Hulser noted that there were a lot of communications not contained on the chart.

“You had to choose?” Burck asked.

“We had to choose those we believed were most relevant to the allegations,” Hulser replied.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On cross examination, Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney, William Burck, drew FBI Special Agent David Hulser’s attention back to the April 2011 day when Jonnie Williams took the then-first lady shopping in New York City.

Williams has testified that he understood that Maureen McDonnell would have him seated next to the governor at an event that evening but only if he took her shopping.

But Burck displayed the invitation to the event, showing that the cocktail party that evening at New York’s Urban League Club was a fundraiser for McDonnell’s political action committee. Donors had to pay $10,000 to attend.

“So he could have just paid $10,000 to be a sponsor of the event?” Burck asked.

Judge James R. Spencer sustained an objection to the question before Hulser answered. The exchange didn’t necessarily prove that Williams was lying about how events unfolded, but did potentially suggest that he didn’t exactly get his money’s worth.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

With Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney, William Burck, now questioning FBI agent David Hulser, the first order of business appears to be re-invigorating the idea that she had a crush on Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The defense’s argument goes that the first lady’s heart, rather than greed, drove her relationship with the businessman.

On Wednesday, prosecutors took aim at the so-called “crush defense” with phone records that demonstrated that Maureen McDonnell talked on the phone more frequently with her husband than she did with Williams. Those records showed Maureen McDonnell and Williams exchanged 167 calls of more than a minute between April 2011 and February 2013. She and her husband exchanged 308.

​But by Burck’s account, that data is misleading. He told the FBI agent that the calls between Williams and Maureen McDonnell spanned 1,800 minutes, while the calls between Maureen McDonnell and her husband spanned just 1,500 — then asked whether Hulser had any reason to dispute his calculations. Hulser said he had not totaled the calls by how long they lasted.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Apparently trying to drive home their assertion that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and the McDonnells were not personal friends before the businessman began lavishing gifts on them, prosecutors Wednesday highlighted that records showed the businessman and Virginia’s first couple exchanged no cellphone calls until early in 2011.

The point was well made. But it also, possibly, exposed a lie by their star witness.

The inconsistency was revealed Thursday as Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney, William Burck, questioned FBI Special Agent David Hulser, who first testified about the phone records Wednesday.

Burck confirmed with Hulser that the records showed no cellphone calls between Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Maureen McDonnell in December 2009. Then he asked whether the agent remembered Williams testifying that he and Maureen McDonnell had talked on the phone that month.

Hulser said he did not remember that. He changed his tune, however, when presented with a transcript of Williams’s testimony. Even then, he tried to protect the credibility of prosecutors’ star witness, saying, “That could have very well been a land line call. I don’t know.”

But Burck pressed the point, noting that Hulser and other FBI agents had not retrieved land line records, and all their inferences came from cellphone data. And then Hulser seemed to undermine his own point about the possibility that Williams used a land line.

“We chose to subpoena cellphone records because that’s what they were using,” the agent said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

To dramatically conclude their questioning of FBI Special Agent David Hulser, prosecutors presented him with all the dresses and shoes, golf bags and shirts, and even the painting and the iPhones that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had given the McDonnells. Then they handed ​the federal agent an inventory of the businessman’s largess, which jurors will get to review.

As he ended his cross examination, defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill seemed to mock the prosecution’s tactic, asking whether the agent had prepared a similar list of everything Williams had received from the government in return for his testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer objected to the question, and U.S. District Judge James Spencer sustained it. Spencer also sustained an objection to another question about whether Hulser had ever seen an immunity deal as beneficial as the one Williams got.

Jurors are not supposed to consider as evidence an attorney’s question that is not answered, but Asbill, who is representing former governor Robert F. McDonnell, undeniably drove home his point that Williams was facing potentially serious criminal charges himself, and his testimony prevents prosecutors from pursuing any of those.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

As he neared the end of his questioning of FBI Agent David Hulser, McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill  revisited one of the most hotly contested issues of the case: whether former governor Robert F. McDonnell knew Jonnie R. Williams — not his own wife — had bought the Rolex he got as a Christmas present in 2011.

Asbill first reminded Hulser — and Hulser agreed — that Williams believed the governor knew the true origins of the gift. Williams testified previously that he knew that because he received a picture of the governor wearing the watch, and that picture came in a text from the governor himself.

But Hulser acknowledged, at Asbill’s questioning, that he was not given any metadata from the photo so he could ascertain its origins.

“So there is no proof, that you’re aware of, other than what Mr. Williams testified to, that my client sent that photo?” Asbill asked the agent.

“Just from the testimony,” Hulser said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former governor Bob McDonnell’s defense attorney has just questioned FBI Special Agent David Hulser about a decision by McDonnell to turn over all his financial records to his bookkeeper in early February 2013.

Hulser testified that he has interviewed the bookkeeper and was aware of that action but could not recall exactly when it took place.

The bookkeeper appears on a list of potential witnesses to appear for the defense. She could be called to the stand during McDonnell’s case to provide additional information about that sequence of events before Maureen McDonnell was first interviewed by law enforcement Feb. 15.

If it’s the case that McDonnell in some way provided information about loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to the bookkeeper in early February 2013, that could be a major assist to the defense in two ways. First, it would indicate that McDonnell was not hiding the loans, as the prosecution has alleged.

Second, the defense could suggest that when McDonnell sent an updated loan application to a bank three days after his wife’s interview with investigators, his modifications came not because the governor realized his relationship with Williams had been discovered but instead because his bookkeeper had noticed the omission.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Bob McDonnell’s defense attorney Henry Asbill has tallied the number of meetings the former governor directed Cabinet secretaries to attend during his four years in office and put the number at 1,150.

Asbill asked FBI Special Agent David Hulser if had done that calculation. Hulser said he had not. Asbill then asked him if he would quarrel with the figure. There was an objection, since Hulser had just testified that he had not made any calculation of the number.

Then Asbill got to the point: Was the FBI agent aware of McDonnell directly setting up any other meeting for Williams with a state official, besides one in 2010 with Secretary of Health Bill Hazel and one in 2011 with health official Molly Huffstetler?

Hulser said he was not.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

As testimony resumed after lunch, McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill continued to press FBI Special Agent David Hulser on the state of the governor’s finances, suggesting that the portrait that prosecutors had painted was unfairly bleak.

Focusing in particular on MoBo Real Estate Partners — the company the governor co-owned with his sister to manage two rental properties in Virginia Beach — Asbill asked Hulser if it was true that Robert F. McDonnell and Maureen C. McDonnell (his sibling who shares a first name with his wife) had put $20,000 of their own money into the company’s account in April 2012? Hulser said it was.

Asbill then asked whether the governor and his sister had, in March 2012, spent nearly $17,000 for outdoor renovations at the properties. The agent said they had, in part to install a cabana.

The line of questioning is clearly designed to show that McDonnell and his real estate company were not desperate for the $70,000 in loans that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave in 2012. That is because the governor and his sister, Asbill noted, had funds of their own. He asked the agent if, as he examined the governor’s personal bank account from March to May 2012, he noticed that there was $50,000 in it.

Hulser said only: “It fluctuated.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

As Bob McDonnell’s defense attorney Henry Asbill looked to poke holes into the testimony of FBI Special Agent David Hulser, he turned to the various charts Hulser had presented on direct examination.

Some of the defense attorney’s efforts seemed fairly effective.

For instance, Asbill asked Hulser whether he reviewed phone records for Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Bob McDonnell on Oct. 21, 2011. That’s the day before Maureen McDonnell went to Flint, Mich., and spoke at a Star Scientific event.

Williams had testified that he called the governor the day before the event and asked him if it was okay for his wife to attend. Williams claimed McDonnell responded that he said he planned to sleep late that Saturday and Williams should just have his wife back in the afternoon.

Asbill handed Hulser a copy of the phone records for that day and asked him to find the phone call between Williams and McDonnell.

“At what time?” Hulser responded.

“I can’t find a phone call on there. Can you? That’s what I’m asking you to do,” Asbill said.

With glasses perched on his nose, Hulser peered at the records.

“I don’t believe I see one,” the FBI agent said.

The defense also tried to put a dent into testimony about the governor’s spin in a Ferrari.

Asbill reviewed with Hulser records that showed that Maureen McDonnell called Williams while she and her husband drove from Smith Mountain Lake to Richmond in the businessman’s Italian sports car.

“Do you know what, if any, part of that conversation my client overhead?” Asbill asked. Hulser said he did not.

“Do you know what the sound level is in a Ferrari driving from Smith Mountain Lake?” Asbill continued.

“Unfortunately, I don’t,” Hulser testified, drawing laughs from the courtroom.

“You would have liked to go on that trip,” Asbill said.

“I’d like to drive a Ferrari,” Hulser responded.

Court has now broken until 2:05 p.m. for lunch. After lunch, Asbill’s questioning will resume.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill pushed back vigorously Thursday against the notion that his client was in extreme financial distress, forcing an FBI agent to acknowledge that the governor had always maintained “excellent” credit scores and pointing out he did not push his family’s credit cards to their limits.

Prosecutors had delivered a damaging blow to former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell when they revealed Wednesday that he and his wife, Maureen, were nearly $75,000 in debt when he took office in January 2010, and that figure crept up to about $90,000 by September.

As he questioned FBI Special Agent David Hulser, Asbill noted that McDonnell’s credit score remained “excellent at all times.” And he offered a reason for the high level of debt in 2010: McDonnell, he said, had left his post as attorney general to run for governor in 2009 and was not drawing a state salary. Hulser testified that he knew McDonnell was running for governor.

Asbill asked Hulser, too, if he knew that McDonnell and his wife had between $20,000 and $175,000 in “excess capacity” on their credit cards — meaning they still had substantial credit that they could draw on despite their  debts. And he noted that the McDonnells’ debt had dipped to $30,000 by January 2011 — before any loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Prosecutors had shown Wednesday that the McDonnells received payments from a life insurance policy and a family trust to help them reduce their debt, and McDonnell’s wife did later use a bank account swollen with money from Williams to pay credit card bills.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Before defense attorneys got their chance to grill an FBI agent about the 2 1/2-year investigation, federal prosecutors wrapped up their case with style.

Leading up to his big finish, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer first questioned FBI Special Agent David Hulser about financial records. Faulconer had Hulser testify that he calculated the total value of most of the loans and gifts Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave to the McDonnells and their children (though he acknowledged his list was not entirely complete). It came to $177,044.06.

Then, he testified that after the investigation into Williams’s relationship with the McDonnells became public, the couple repaid Williams his loan money. Their daughter Cailin McDonnell and her husband Chris Young repaid Williams $15,000 for the catering at their wedding, though Hulser noted that Williams’s check had gone straight to the catering company and its refund went to Maureen McDonnell.

Hulser also testified that the McDonnells returned to Williams a series of physical items, all of which Williams turned over to the FBI.

And then Faulconer put on a fashion show.

One at a time, he asked security officers to bring forward to Hulser on the witness stand each of those items returned from the McDonnells to Williams. The FBI agent stood in the witness box and lifted each aloft for jurors.

“Agent Hulser, is this an Oscar de la Renta sweater?” Faulconer began.

“It is,” Hulser responded, holding the gold sweat aloft on a wire hanger.

Next came five golf shirts purchased at the exclusive Kinloch golf club outside Richmond. Hulser held them up, one at a time. And the Oscar de la Renta full length rain coat. And a white Louis Vuitton purse. And a matching Louis Vuitton wallet. And the Rolex watch.

Most items were familiar to the jury from previous testimony, but a few were new. There was a picture of two iPhones–Hulser testified the McDonnells gave Williams a monetary value equivalent to the phones. There was also a water color painting that appeared like it might be an image of Chatham Bars Inn or perhaps the Smith Mountain Lake House. Hulser said it was also among the items returned.

Shoes. More Oscar de la Renta dresses. The yellow dress that Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff testified Williams purchased after the first lady told him the governor had fallen in love with her in yellow. Hulser held it in front of him.

Finally, Faulconer asked Hulser, did he review the McDonnells’ credit card records during this time period? He said he had. And were there any charges to reflect golf at Kinloch? He said there was not. How about renting a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, which the family enjoyed while staying at Williams’s home there? Again, he agreed there was not. The trip to Chatham Bars Inn? He said no.

With that, Faulconer said he had no further questions and turned Hulser over to the defense for cross examiniation.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Now it’s the defense’s turn to ask questions of FBI Special Agent David Hulser. As McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill began the cross examination, he showed jurors how investigators had torn into his client’s life — and perhaps laid the groundwork to argue that their investigation was thorough except on at least one key point.

Asbill asked Hulser how long the investigation took (2 1/2 years), how many agents were involved (8) and exactly what lengths they went to in pursuit of the case. At Asbill’s questions, Hulser acknowledged that agents interviewed many, if not all, of the McDonnells’ children and their children’s spouses, and that they also questioned Robert F. McDonnell’s sister and her ex-husband. Agents also met with several former staffers, including cabinet secretaries, and people who knew the governor but did not work with him, Hulser said.

Asbill also asked about the phone data Hulser had obtained, and Hulser talked of the call records and actual texts that he and others had reviewed.

Asbill then asked the agent about one of prosecutors’ key witnesses, Mary-Shea Sutherland, and whether agents had reviewed her texts. Sutherland has been a target of defense attorneys, as they have suggested she was secretly working to get a job with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and using the governor’s office to help him.

Hulser said they had not obtained her records.

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