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Updates: Day 19 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 21, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell arrives at federal court with his daughter, Cailin Young, on Thursday before taking the stand in Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell arrives at federal court with his daughter, Cailin Young, on Thursday before taking the stand in Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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.

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

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell said he was a little embarrassed in early 2012 when Maureen McDonnell pitched Anatabloc to the wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, suggesting that Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s unproven dietary supplement might help Ann Romney combat multiple sclerosis.

The governor had traveled to South Carolina on the eve of the Republican primary to endorse the former Massachusetts governor for president. Maureen McDonnell met him in the state, as did Jonnie Williams.

Jurors have heard before what happened when Maureen McDonnell made her pitch aboard the campaign bus. Two McDonnell aides overheard, and one of them leapt into the conversation to steer it to another topic. That aide, Phil Cox, called the exchange a “train wreck” – one that would reflect poorly on Bob McDonnell at a time when he was a contender to be Romney’s running mate.

Bob McDonnell described his own reaction in softer terms, but he said the pitch was “inappropriate.”

“I overheard a little bit,” he said. “I knew my wife was trying to be helpful, but it felt inappropriate in that setting for Maureen to be having that discussion.”

Asked if his wife’s actions had embarrassed him, McDonnell said: “A little bit, yes.”

Bob McDonnell said he had not been aware of any effort by Maureen McDonnell to get Mitt Romney to meet with Williams during that time. And he said there would have been no way to shoehorn a meeting into Romney’s tightly scripted schedule, with two days left before the primary.

“That just was not going to happen,” Bob McDonnell.

Bob McDonnell said he shot down Maureen McDonnell when she asked if she could take a paid position on Star Scientific’s board. She initially said Williams wanted the governor himself to serve, and when Bob McDonnell said that would be inappropriate, she asked if she could serve.

“I thought that was a very bad idea,” Bob McDonnell said, noting the potential for conflicts of interest. “I think she understood that. I think that would affect me directly and I said, ‘You can’t do that.’”

After a bit more testimony from the governor, court adjourned with the defense still on direct examination of the former governor. The trial resumes Friday at 9:45 a.m.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell spent the last few minutes of Thursday’s proceedings describing his role in a real estate company he co-owned with his sister to manage two rental properties in Virginia Beach. The company is important to the case because prosecutors have alleged that the properties’ financial distress in part led the McDonnells to seek the generosity of Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

McDonnell said his sister, Maureen C. McDonnell, was the stronger financial partner in the company, though starting in 2012, as she split up with her husband, he began to take more of a role in managing the books.

Early that year, when his wife and then-brother-in-law, Michael Uncapher, were working to provide financial help to the real estate partnership, McDonnell said he was out of the loop.

Jurors were shown a Jan. 25, 2012, e-mail from Uncapher to Bob McDonnell that said he had talked to the first lady and “she had me talk to the guy who is helping us.” McDonnell forwarded the message to his wife and asked a question in which he misspells Williams’s first name: “Who are we talking about …. Johnnie?”

McDonnell said he did not know that his wife and Uncapher had been talking about a loan for the real estate partnership. His lawyer, Henry Asbill, did not press him on whether the e-mail made that clear to him or if he remained in the dark..

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell asserted firmly Thursday that he had no idea the Rolex watch his wife gave him for Christmas in 2011 actually was purchased by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — at least not until the federal investigation was underway.

McDonnell said he learned the true source of the $6,500 luxury timepiece in March 2013 — more than a year after he got it. He denied sending Williams a picture text of himself wearing the Rolex in 2012 — a picture Williams has previously said was a confirmation to him that the governor knew who actually purchased the watch.

The testimony puts McDonnell at odds with Williams on a gift that jurors will likely remember. And jurors will likely be forced to believe one man’s testimony over the other’s, because while they have seen the picture from 2012, there is no corresponding record of a text with it.

McDonnell’s testimony is also the first time he has explained publicly, from start to finish, how he got the watch, what he knew about its purchase, and when he knew it.

McDonnell said his wife gave it to him as a Christmas present in 2011 — wrapped in a non-Rolex box, with no accompanying paperwork. “The packing that I got said, ‘From Santa,’” McDonnell said, “but that’s something my wife typically does.”

McDonnell testified that his wife also frequently bought him watches — the one he wears now, he says, is a 15-year-old Seiko, from her — so the gift itself was not entirely unusual. But he said he knew it was “expensive,” and figured a job Maureen McDonnell had recently obtained with philanthropic arm of one of the state’s major coal companies made it possible for her to afford the purchase.

“I didn’t interrogate her,” he said. “I didn’t question her about where it came from or any of that.”

McDonnell said the watch appeared to be new, but because of its packaging and lack of paperwork, he suspected that “maybe it’s not real.” He said he wore it for a couple weeks and said that two staffers soon advised him not to. Some time after that, he said, he began wearing it only on special occasions, mostly around family.

“Did you like the watch?” defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked.

“Not really,” McDonnell responded. “It was big. It was gawdy. It wasn’t my kind of watch.”

But McDonnell had to acknowledge he was photographed in December 2012 wearing the timepiece, and that photo ended up in Williams’s hands.

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen wearing the Rolex watch given to him by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The watch is engraved with the words "Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia." (U.S. Attorney's Office)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen wearing the Rolex watch given to him by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The watch is engraved with the words “Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia.” (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Jurors have already seen the photo, and heard Williams testify he got it from the governor himself — despite a lack of phone records corroborating his account. McDonnell, though, said the photo appeared to have been shot in the back of a state police SUV. And based on the angle and where his wife usually sits in the vehicle, he said he assumed Maureen McDonnell was the one to take it.

“My best recollection is that would have been taken by my wife,” McDonnell said.

The photo shows McDonnell grinning and holding his hand aloft — Williams said he interpreted that as the governor bragging about the expensive gift. But McDonnell said he has no specific memory of its taking — “I’ve had my picture taken so many times,” he said — and he vehemently denied having sent it to Williams in a text.

“Do you know how this picture got to Jonnie Williams?” Asbill asked.

“I know how it didn’t get there … It didn’t get there from me,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell says he has reviewed phone records from 2011 and discovered that he and businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. spoke by phone just once that year and exchanged only a handful of text messages. He said he believed their only phone call was a message the governor left in May 2011 that lasted under 2 minutes and consisted of him thanking Williams for paying for a golf game.

His defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked him: Was he was aware at the time of how often his wife was speaking to Williams?

“I had no idea,” he said. He said when he and his legal team started gathering records as part of the investigation, he learned his wife had 950 texts and phone calls with Williams that year.

“I was actually hurt,” he said. “And I was very surprised. Minutes that were more than she talked to me.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

In November 2011, according to Robert F. McDonnell, his wife informed him that she had not transferred shares of Star Scientific stock she had purchased earlier into her children’s names, as he had thought was her plan.

She told him she had been trying. But she wanted to put the stock in her children’s names but retain control of the shares, so they could be presented to the children at their weddings.

McDonnell said he immediately looked up the price of Star stock and discovered it had plummeted since her purchase in June. The value of her holding had dropped from $30,000 to around $15,000. Recalling that his wife viewed this money as the replacement of her father’s inheritance check — which her husband had required her to spend paying down credit card bills, he said he offered this blunt assessment: “You’ve lost half your dad’s inheritance.”

He told her she should sell the shares, that Star was not a “blue chip” stock and was not the company she wanted to give as a wedding presents to their children.

But, he insisted, that advice had nothing to do with the fact that the end of the year was looming and that, under Virginia law, if she held the stock at year’s end, it would need to be reported. He noted he had reported significant campaign contributions from Williams. “There was not reason not to report it,” he said of the stock.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

In October 2011, Maureen McDonnell attended three Star Scientific events for investors and doctors, speaking on behalf of the company and allowing her name to be used on their invitations, using the title first lady of Virginia.

But Robert F. McDonnell testified he knew little about those events. The former governor said he learned of the first, an event at a Richmond Westin, only after the investigation began. He said he knew his wife was going to the second, an event in Flint Michigan. But he understood the event to be a small informal gathering, where his wife would learn more about research into Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s product.

Williams testified that he called McDonnell the night before that event took place, to alert the governor that he was taking his wife to it. McDonnell just testified that call never happened.

As for a third event in California, he said he knew only that his wife and several other woman had accepted an offer from Williams to fly on his private plane to an annual convention for Nu-Skin, a different supplement company, in Utah. He said he didn’t know they also flew to a Star event in California.

Earlier in the trial, jurors saw videotape of Maureen McDonnell speaking at those events, praising the company and even calling Jonnie Williams a longtime friend.

“I did not think that,” he said. “That’s not accurate. We had known each other for a short amount of time.”

As for the trio of promotional events overall, he said: “Had I known that there would be investors and press and she was going to speak and be introduced in her official — or rather her unofficial — position as first lady, I would have seen it different.”

(That last verbal correction was an acknowledgement that McDonnell is intimately familiar with his team’s legal strategy. They are arguing that Maureen McDonnell, as a first lady, was a private citizen and could not trade her office for bribes. He corrected himself before suggesting that he believed being first lady was some kind of “official” position.)

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell testified that he showed up a little late to a September 2011 charity auction in Richmond that his wife was co-chairing at the Hilton Hotel and Spa, and when he arrived, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. was already sitting at a table with the first lady. He said he sat down, and soon got another surprise.

He was being auctioned off.

At some point, McDonnell testified, the emcee at the so-called Cure By Design event told the crowd he was offering a weekend vacation at his own condo in New York — an item that wasn’t originally up for sale. What happened next, McDonnell said, is unclear, but the emcee then said the governor and first lady would be on the trip, and whoever won it would be flying up to New York in Williams’s private plane.

McDonnell said he knew, then, that he was “not going and staying in some stranger’s apartment in New York for a weekend,” but he did not want to cause a scene. He said decided to “wait it out and see what happened,” figuring he could work something out with the winning bidder later.

That turned about to be Williams, for $15,000.

McDonnell said he never went on the trip with Williams — and he wasn’t sure if Williams used the condo himself. But he said he and his wife did join Williams and a male model friend for dinner at the hotel that night.

“We were obviously appreciative that he would make a donation to a charity my wife was working on,” McDonnell said.

And Williams paid the dinner bill, too, McDonnell said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·
Jonnie Williams is said to have arranged and paid for outings for the McDonnells at Kinloch Golf Club in Goochland County, according to testimony.  (Trial exhibits)

Jonnie R. Williams Sr. is said to have arranged and paid for outings for the McDonnells at Kinloch Golf Club in Goochland County, according to testimony. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Declaring that he’s “never belonged to a country club in my life,” Robert F.  McDonnell said he did not realize just how much money golf outings for the governor and his sons were costing Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Jurors have previously heard about several visits McDonnell and his sons made to the private Kinloch Golf Club on Williams’s tab. In addition to fees for caddies and the golf itself, there were charges for food and gear at the pro shop. At least one trip alone cost more than $1,000.

Bob McDonnell was fuzzy about whether he’d personally gone into the pro shop to buy items.

“I know my sons might have gone in,” he said. “Somehow we did end up with some shirts. I know we had a couple of things to eat,” both before and after one round of golf.

Bob McDonnell said at the kinds of places he’d normally golf, “I’m used to paying $50 or $75.”

“I’ve never belonged to a country club in my life,” he said. “I didn’t ask the questions. I didn’t have any idea it was going to be in the thousands of dollars.”

He added: “I didn’t know, but I should have.”

The golf outings did not appear on McDonnell’s public disclosure of gifts.

The governor said that was because “the donor is supposed to submit the cost” of a donation to the governor’s office, so he can account for it on his annual statement. He said Williams had not submitted the information to his office.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell talks with reporters outside the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday. Also leaving with McDonnell is, from left, his sister, Eileen, his daughter, Cailin Young, Father Wayne Ball,  and on the right of McDonnell, Father Timothy Scully from Notre Dame. Rev. Timothy Scully. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell talks with reporters outside the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday. Also leaving with McDonnell is, from left, his sister, Eileen, his daughter Cailin Young, the Rev. Wayne Ball, and on the right of McDonnell, the Rev. Timothy Scully from Notre Dame. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Friar Wayne Ball, pastor of the Catholic church where Robert F. McDonnell is staying during his trial, has written a blog post exploring an issue much-discussed over the past few days — the former Virginia governor’s public testimony about intimate marital problems.

“[Y]esterday as I watched Bob take the oath, an oath I had heard a thousand times, I heard three words as I had never heard them before,” Ball wrote on his blog. Those words: “the whole truth,” something most Catholics only divulge during a confidential confession. It would be impossible for either spouse in a long-married couple to testify to “the whole truth” without discussing their marriage, Ball wrote.

He appeared to defend McDonnell against columnists who have criticized him for speaking in such personal and unflattering terms about his wife: “The media keeps talking about ‘throwing his wife under the bus.’ Yesterday, I saw in stark reality how our legal system only gives us a binary choice. You can refuse to testify, which is your right. Or you can tell the whole truth. There is no third option.”

Saying few people would want to disclose such truth, he closed with a quote from the Bible: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”

Ball wrote that he has avoided references to the trial on his blog up until now, but that he felt compelled to speak out on a problem he had never considered before. He has attended the trial regularly but was unable to be in court on Thursday, he wrote.

For a profile of Maureen McDonnell last year, Ball told The Washington Post that you could see the couple’s humility in the way they worshiped at tiny St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. “They just come up the side aisle, come and take their seats in the pew, not making an entrance,” Ball said. “If she wanted to make a show, we’ve got the cathedral.”

McDonnell has been staying in the St. Patrick’s rectory during the trial, he revealed during his testimony, because it would be hard to stay “fresh” for court if he was going home to his wife each night and rehashing the day’s events. Their marriage is “basically on hold,” he said.

Another priest testified Wednesday that McDonnell is “a role model for all of us” who “embodies virtue.” 

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen driving the Ferrari of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen driving the Ferrari of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Robert F. McDonnell has just explained why he drove Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s Ferrari this way: “At some point, I’m entitled to be normal.”

The former governor was telling the jury how as governor he did not get to drive, but he took the wheel when Williams’s sports car when vacationing at the Star chief’s Smith Mountain Lake home in July 2011.

Williams testified earlier in the trial that he’d had the car transported to the home for the McDonnells’ use. And jurors were earlier shown an invoice for a transportation company hired to pick up the Star employee who had dropped the vehicle off at the house.

But McDonnell said he was under the impression that he was doing Williams a favor by driving the car back to Richmond. The former governor was fuzzy about just when he realized the car was at the house. He said it might have been in the garage, possibly under a cover.

But at some point, he knew he was in the presence of a very expensive car.

“We saw it was a very significant high-performance car,” he said.

McDonnell initially expressed indifference about the Ferrari. They had everything they needed for the family get-away right there at Williams’s lakeside home, which had a private dock and boat rented for the McDonnells’ use.

“There was no need to go anywhere,” he said. “It was a water vacation.”

He said he drove it once to brunch a mile away. As for the three-hour spin back to Richmond, McDonnell said he was planning to jump in the back of his state SUV and let someone else drive it.

So why did he drive it, his attorney asked.

“I hadn’t driven in almost two years,” he said. “At some point, I’m entitled to be normal.”

He also said his children talked him into it. “My kids kind of egged me on.”

Only after all that did he concede that, well, yeah, Ferraris are fun.

“Listen, it was a Ferrari,” McDonnell said, noting that his family car is a Toyota with 180,000 miles on it. “It was fun. I enjoyed it. … I was on vacation.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·
Cailin McDonnell testified that this is a photo of Jonnie Williams Sr.'s vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake, which was used by the McDonnells. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

Cailin McDonnell testified that this is a photo of Jonnie Williams Sr.’s vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake, which was used by the McDonnells. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell said he decided to accept a lake house vacation from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in the summer of 2011 at his wife’s suggestion. The previous summer, they had stayed at a home provided to them by a different company, Delta Star.

When Williams offered his house, she said they should go there instead for a summer. Meanwhile, Delta Star still paid some expenses for the trip, including some food and golf.

Lawyer Henry Asbill asked McDonnell: Why, generally, did he believe people give gifts to the governor?

Prosecutors objected, so Judge James R. Spencer jumped in, indicating that the governor could answer because he, in fact, already provided an answer to that question on Wednesday.

“I think you answered, sir, that everyone who gives you something wants something, right?” Spencer said, echoing McDonnell’s words about campaign donors.

McDonnell expanded, indicating that some people give because they like the elected official. Some people give to get time or access to the governor.

McDonnell said that as governor, he accepted gifts like tickets and vacations so he could spend time with his family. “I didn’t see a ticket or an event. I saw time with family.”

Indeed, at Smith Mountain Lake, he said he spent time with his children and wife, boating and golfing.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Jurors have heard testimony that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. flew some of the McDonnell children to a retreat hosted by the governor’s political action committee at the Homestead Resort in western Virginia.

Did the governor himself know that?

He said on the witness stand Thursday that he cannot quite remember.

“I’m not completely certain,” Robert F. McDonnell said, adding that those arrangements were likely made by his scheduler, and his wife was possibly involved. “I’m just not sure.”​

McDonnell also provided an explanation for Williams’s attendance at the retreat: He said the event was meant for major political donors, and Williams’s lending his private plane to the campaign put him in that category.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·
A U-Va. golf bag that was given to Bobby McDonnell by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

A U-Va. golf bag that was given to Bobby McDonnell by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Robert F. McDonnell has provided some new information about golf equipment given by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in the summer of 2011 to his sons, as well as a Notre Dame golf bag given to the governor himself. He did not disclose the bag, although he says now he figured it likely cost more than $50, which triggered the reporting requirement.

In June 2011, a set of new golf clubs in a new University of Virginia golf bag “just showed” up at the governor’s mansion — a gift from Williams to McDonnell’s son Bobby. McDonnell said no one had asked for the clubs, but Williams gave them anyway. “It seemed different than the wedding present. It came out of the blue. There was no event,” McDonnell said. “My feeling was that the gift was a little much.”

Like his son earlier in the trial, McDonnell testified that he gave that advice to his son. But, he said, his son was 20 or 21 years old. “I knew that the gift was perfectly lawful under Virginia law.” He said Williams hadn’t asked him for anything. So McDonnell told his son “what my opinion was” but did not object when he decided to keep the clubs.

Later that summer, a set of golf clubs that appeared to be used showed up as a gift for Sean. Again, McDonnell said he expressed his reservations but didn’t tell Sean to return.

But in July of that year, McDonnell said a Notre Dame golf bag arrived intended for him. He explained that the “system was supposed to be that gifts were logged” for later reporting purposes. “Gifts of that type would be captured,”​ he said.

McDonnell acknowledged that he assumed the golf bag cost more than $50 — perhaps as much as several hundred dollars. He didn’t explicitly explain why he did not disclose the gift.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell testified Thursday that he intended to report the $50,000 loan Jonnie R. Williams Sr. made to his wife in 2011 — and the stock she bought with it — basically from the moment he found out about the money.

Talking about the loan with Maureen McDonnell around the time he learned about it, McDonnell said he told his wife, “I was going to have to report the loan, and I’d have to report this stock at the end of the year, but I wasn’t worried about it.”

Talking specifically of the stock later, he said that was something he would address “when we got closer to disclosure time.”

The statements are interesting because McDonnell’s disclosure of both the loan and the stock — and his requirement to do so — are nebulous.

On the form for 2011 disclosures, the governor marked that a member of his immediate family held a liability to an individual creditor of at least $50,000. That could refer to the loan. But McDonnell described the creditor as being employed in “medical services” and never named Williams as the lender.

McDonnell did not disclose the stock, but jurors have now heard testimony that his wife sold it, then repurchased it, at year’s end, avoiding the requirement to do so.

Prosecutors have posited both the way McDonnell disclosed the loan and his wife’s stock transactions as evidence that they were trying to hide their relationship with Williams.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell has just acknowledged he learned, in June 2011, that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. loaned his wife $50,000 weeks earlier.

So, defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked, “Why didn’t you ever just tell her to give it back?”

The question is probably one that jurors will wonder about and prosecutors would have asked if Asbill did not. McDonnell responded that he “thought about that” — mainly because he did not want his wife incurring another debt “we didn’t need” — but he wanted to avoid a fight about it.

“I learned, though, I just needed to pick the battles with my wife on certain things very carefully,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said he was thinking, in particular, about his decision the year before to make his wife put about $25,000 from her late father’s estate toward their family’s credit card bills against her wishes. That led to an emotional fight, and McDonnell said he quickly regretted telling Maureen McDonnell how to spend her own money.

“I just was not going to take on that fight again with my wife,” he said. “I had made a decision that she was very, very emotionally unhappy about before, and I was just not going to do it again.”

And McDonnell said when he analyzed the loan from a business and government perspective, it made some sense.

First, McDonnell said he did not see any “conflict” with Williams and his company, Star Scientific, because they had not yet asked him for anything.

“I haven’t done anything for Jonnie Williams. He hasn’t asked me for anything,” McDonnell said, explaining his reasoning for not returning the loan. “Star Scientific hasn’t asked me for anything.”

He said his wife, too, now had the “capacity” to pay the loan back — having recently acquired a position with the philanthropic arm of one of the state’s major coal companies that paid her a $36,000 salary.

​McDonnell said a portion of the loan was devoted to buying stock — noting that was how his wife wanted to spend the money from her father’s estate — and another portion was to paying down credit card debts that Maureen McDonnell had incurred. That, in a way, helped the McDonnells’ financial situation. McDonnell said his wife told him the loan had a mere 2 percent interest rate, and it was to be paid back essentially all at once in 2015.

McDonnell said he eventually talked to Williams personally to confirm the terms of the loan — though that was after the check was written. He said he “certainly expected a loan to have some documents attending that” — though Maureen did not have any for him.

“I never talked to Mr. Williams before that loan was delivered to my wife,” he said.

Notes written during a meeting between Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell regarding a $50,000 loan. (Trial evidence)

Notes written during a meeting between Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell regarding a $50,000 loan. (Trial evidence)

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell testified that he only found out after the fact that his wife had borrowed $50,000 from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and used $30,000 to buy Star Scientific stock.

The former governor said that on the day after their daughter Cailin’s wedding, Maureen McDonnell told him that when Williams came to the mansion on May 23, 2011, to give her a $15,000 check for the wedding catering, he also gave her a $50,000 loan.

“I was just astounded,” he said. “We didn’t need any money.”

That account flatly contradicts what Williams said on the stand: That he talked with the governor before extending the loan. The executive had testified that he felt the need to consult with the Virginia governor since he was the bread-winner.

McDonnell’s asserting that the couple did not need any money also goes against the narrative advanced by the prosecution, that the McDonnells were in financial distress.

Bob McDonnell acknowledged that the couple had substantial credit card debt, but he’d whittled it down from $90,000 to $30,000.
“The $30,000 in credit card debt, we had it perfectly under control,” he said.

Bob McDonnell said his wife used $20,000 of the loan to pay down credit card debt. The rest she poured into Star stock. She said she’d always wanted to give her children stock as a wedding gift, he said.

The shares were not transferred to the newlyweds or other McDonnell children at that time, and prosecutors say the shares were moved in an effort to dodge reporting requirements on Bob McDonnell’s financial disclosure form.

Bob McDonnell said his wife’s actions puzzled and angered him.

“There was no sense of urgency to pay down the credit card bills. ‘I just don’t understand why you did this,’ ” he recalled telling her. “I was extremely upset. ‘Maureen, I manage the finances.’”

McDonnell said his wife insisted that she could spend Williams’s money as she pleased.

“She looked at the money as a substitute for the money I had taken from her the year before,” he said, referring to the check from her father’s estate that McDonnell had insisted the couple put toward paying down credit card debt.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Now Robert F. McDonnell is confronting some of the specific pieces of circumstantial evidence shown by prosecutors that might suggest he knew about his wife’s stock purchase earlier than he indicated he learned of it.

His attorney Henry Asbill showed him a chart put together by an FBI agent that showed he spoke with his wife by phone for four minutes on June 1, 2011, right after she spoke with her stockbroker. “I really don’t remember that call,” McDonnell said. But, he added, “She didn’t tell me about the stock until June 5.”

Asbill also showed McDonnell a Post-It note that prosecutors had introduced with a series of numbers regarding the family’s financial situation, including net annual salary and net worth. The stockbroker testified that he told Maureen McDonnell that she needed to gather some details about family finances from her husband and, as a result, she had given him this Post-It note. That might suggest that she had, in fact, consulted with her husband and used him to help her put together the information.

But McDonnell testified that he had never seen the Post-It before it was displayed in court and was not entirely sure exactly what the numbers on it, in places, were intended to convey.

“This is my wife’s handwriting, but I can’t tell what she means,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell said daughter Cailin’s wedding day was a “spectacular day.”

“It was tearful for me, walking my little girl down the aisle,” he said, made more special because he very much liked his new son-in-law Chris Young. “As a dad, this was a man who was going to take care of her the way I had taken care of her when she was a little girl.”

Beyond the $8,000 he put towards catering, McDonnell said he also paid a few other wedding expenses, including the photographer. He said he recalled learning at that time that a Virginia Beach doctor lent his daughter a limo and Charlottesville socialite Patricia Kluge had given wine. Other items, he said, he did not know had been donated.

Cailin McDonnell earlier testified that the wedding rings were donated by a jeweler then running for the House of Delegates, along with picture frames given as favors to guests. She paid $43 for her wedding dress.

“Did you solicit anything or get people to give gifts?” his lawyer Henry Asbill asked.

“Not to my recollection,” he said.

Shortly before the wedding, McDonnell testified that his communications director, Tucker Martin, came to him with a question that had been posed by members of the media given that the wedding would be held at the governor’s mansion.

“Is the state paying for any of the expenses or is the family paying for it?” he said was the questions. “I told him the family was paying for it. That was the question I got.”

Asbill continued: “You viewed it as, taxpayer vs. non-taxpayer?”

“Yes, that was the question I got,” McDonnell repeated.

Martin has testified that he released public statements at the time indicating that the family was paying because that’s what he was told to say by the governor.

Cailin McDonnell, daughter of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, with her fiance, Christopher Young hold a reception at the Executive Mansion days before their wedding. (Photo by Mike Topham, via the Governor's Office)

Cailin McDonnell, daughter of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, with her fiance, Christopher Young hold a reception at the Executive Mansion days before their wedding. (Photo by Mike Topham, via the Governor’s Office)

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

More than a year after Maureen McDonnell made a splash at a June 2011 Anatabloc investors’ conference — professing her faith in the supplement and offering to launch the product from the governor’s mansion — Robert F.  McDonnell first got wind of what she’d done, the governor testified.

Her appearance and vows of support quickly created a buzz on at least one investor Web site, but McDonnell said he was not aware at the time that she’d pledged her support before a large audience.

McDonnell said he knew his wife was traveling to Florida to learn more about Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s dietary supplement. But he said he thought she was simply going to observe some clinical trials and chat with a few scientists.

“I didn’t send her as my surrogate or anything,” Bob McDonnell said. “She wasn’t going as first lady. She was going because of her longstanding interest in nutraceuticals.”

Only after the investigation got underway in March 2013 did McDonnell learn that the first lady had pledged her support before a large gathering of investors, he said.

“I found out she had spoken probably a month after the investigation started in March of last year,” he said. “I thought it was a handful of people.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

On May 28, 2011, Robert F. McDonnell sent Jonnie R. Williams Sr. a text, thanking the dietary supplement executive for “all your help with my family.” He referenced a wedding gift to his daughter Cailin and golf outings for his sons, specifically.

McDonnell said at the time, he had no idea that Williams had written a $50,000 check as loan to his wife, or even talked about such a large financial contribution.

The testimony is important because it stands in conflict with what Williams said. The businessman said though he agreed to provide the money to Maureen McDonnell, who was complaining of financial woes, he said he would need to talk to her husband, first.

“I needed to make sure her husband knew about it,” Williams testified previously. “He’s the breadwinner in the house, and I’m not writing his wife checks without him knowing about it.”

Williams said previously the two men, at some point, talked, and the governor thanked him.

Although the timing is murky, McDonnell denied the businessman told him about the check before giving it to Maureen.

“Did you see him or talk to him that day before the check was given to Maureen?” defense attorney Henry “Hank”‘ Asbill asked.

“No, that’s absolutely false,” McDonnell testified. ​

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