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Updates: Day 20 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 22, 2014
In this Jan. 21 file photo, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell speaks during a news conference in Richmond, accompanied by his wife, Maureen. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In this Jan. 21 file photo, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell speaks during a news conference in Richmond, accompanied by his wife, Maureen, after they were jointly charged in a 14-count indictment alleging that they engaged in conspiracy and fraud. (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

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Judge James R. Spencer has decided to close court early for the day. Proceedings will resume Monday, with Robert F. McDonnell still on the stand. Next will come questions from Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer, followed by cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry.

But before concluding for the day, Spencer gave jurors a special message.

“You’ve been troupers,” he said. “You are hanging tough.”

He promised them that it may not seem like it, but the trial is making progress.

“Stay with us. Have a wonderful weekend. Make sure you hug your loved ones,” he said. As always, he admonished them not to review media accounts of the trial. “Just try to get your mind away from it as best you can,” he said.

“You’re all making a tremendous sacrifice,” he said. “Believe me, Sunday I’ll be in church, and your names will be on my lips.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has concluded offering testimony during direct examination from his own attorneys, concluding that he was to blame for the error of misjudging businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. but insisting he did nothing illegal in his interactions with him.

Asked if he blamed Williams for his situation, he answered, “in part.”

“I misjudged Jonnie Williams. I thought he was a true friend,” he said. “I had no idea that he would come into federal court and make false statements against me to save himself.”

McDonnell started to say, “to save himself from unrelated allegations,” but prosecutors objected before he could complete the line.”

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill then asked if he blamed his wife. “No, I don’t blame my wife,” he said.

Then, he was asked who is to blame for his being in court: “I hold myself accountable,” he said. “I got my life out of balance.”

But he said he didn’t ever know what Williams wanted from him. “He never told me.”

“I thought he wanted to be friends with me, he liked being with my wife, he wanted his business to grow,” he said.

Then Asbill asked his client a series of questions. Did he ever give Williams or Star Scientific anything in exchange for his gifts and loans? “No, absolutely not, never,” McDonnell replied.

Did he ever work with his wife to do so? Or make promises to do so — written, oral, nod or wink? Did he ever intentionally attempt to mislead a bank or attempt to hide a corrupt relationship with Williams? In turn, McDonnell insisted each time that he had not.

“In your heart and in your mind, are you innocent of the charges in this case?” Asbill asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I know in my heart.”

He added he had spent 38 years in public life and wouldn’t have traded that for golf matches or dinners.

Asbill concluded: Of all the gifts he ever received in office, what was the most precious?

“Having some time with my family,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell acknowledged Friday that state police’s interview with his wife on Feb. 15, 2013, prompted him — at least in part — to take a closer look at a financial application which he later modified to include $120,000 in loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The testimony is important because prosecutors have alleged that the first lady’s interview with state police spooked the McDonnell family, and that the interview was the reason the governor decided to disclose the loans from Williams on his loan application to Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Before that, they have alleged, the governor was trying to keep secret his financial dealings with the businessman.

Though McDonnell acknowledged anger over the state police interview, he disputed that it was the sole reason he decided to review his loan application. He testified that he thought the document was still in process, and that he already intended to review it the weekend after his wife was interviewed because of several mistakes he had noticed. Jurors saw e-mails showing that he had alerted a credit union official to those mistakes in the weeks prior and that he also seemed to believe he had until Feb. 18 to submit certain documents.

But McDonnell said that when he reviewed the application, he knew state police were asking about his and his wife’s relationship with Williams. Because of that, he said wanted to be completely sure all his financial dealings were above board.

“I knew that I needed to look at everything I was doing at that time to make sure that everything I was doing was absolutely correct,” McDonnell testified.

McDonnell ended up resubmitting the application to the bank on Feb. 18, 2013, with several modifications. He listed the $120,000 in loans from Williams, but he also listed about $250,000 in assets that were previously left off — including his car, stock in Williams’s company and another equity holding. He said he figured he would continue to talk with credit union officials until closing on February 28.

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked if he was trying to deceive the bank at any point. McDonnell said he was not. He soon began to list ways in which he had publicized his financial dealings with Williams, saying that he listed a loan from Williams on a disclosure form for 2011 and gave a bookkeeper full access to his accounts.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer interrupted.

“The questions was, did you have any reason to hide,” the judge said.

“No, I did not,” the former governor responded.

Businessman Jonnie Williams arrives with his attorneys to testify in the trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell on Thursday in Richmond. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Businessman Jonnie Williams arrives with his attorneys to testify earlier in the trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell in Richmond. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

After a lengthy description of his continued interactions with PenFed bank in early February 2013 — meant to show jurors that his loan application at the time remained a work in progress — former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has now described his wife’s interview by Virginia State Police officers on Feb. 15, 2013.

McDonnell said he learned that state police wanted to interview his wife Maureen from his chief of staff Martin Kent, who showed him an e-mail from the head of the state police indicating the interview was needed to finish up an investigation into the fired mansion chef. Todd Schneider had come under suspicion a year earlier of stealing food for the mansion. McDonnell said that made sense to him — he had actually been concerned the investigation into the chef had dragged.

He asked if Kent could attend the meeting, but Kent was told that he was “not invited.” McDonnell said he didn’t think it would be proper for him to sit in himself, since he was officially in charge of the state police. “I didn’t want to interrupt that process,” he said referring to the chef investigation.

What’s more, he said, “I thought my wife could handle it. I didn’t think it was that big.”

Jurors know that at that interview, state police officers asked Maureen McDonnell a series of questions about Jonnie R. Williams Sr. She gave them false information, indicating her husband had known Williams for years and that she was making periodic payments on his loan to her.

McDonnell said he returned to the mansion that evening at about 6 or 6:30 to find his wife very upset.

“She said, ‘The state police lied to you,’” he testified. She then proceeded to explain that the police had asked a “number of questions about Jonnie Williams and loans and other things.”

“I was darn angry,” McDonnell said. “I felt for them to misrepresent to my chief of staff and to me and to essentially ambush my wife in an interview was wrong.”

He said he was also concerned about what they were doing — were they investigating Williams? His wife or him?

He said his wife was “very upset and very anxious” about the whole thing. He said that he asked who had conducted the interview, and he believed his wife told him it was both the FBI and the state police. In fact, it had only been the latter, but a state police officer testified that he had exchanged pleasantries with the first lady about his previous job with the FBI, which could have led her to assume otherwise.

“I certainly understood that there was some investigation going on by some law enforcement entity into the transactions,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Testifying about financial documents on which prosecutors say he lied, Robert F. McDonnell suggested he filled out and reviewed the materials on a tight deadline, with his job as governor keeping him busy.

McDonnell seems to be making the case that his defense attorneys have with other witnesses: that the loan process is long and involves many iterations of documents, and it would not be surprising for the governor to have accidentally omitted loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Prosecutors must prove that McDonnell intended to influence the financial institution to which the documents were sent.

McDonnell testified in particular of a document he gave to a Pentagon Federal Credit Union official on Feb. 1, 2013 — a document which shows some handwritten changes, but does not reflect the loans from Williams he had received. The governor testified that he was busy the day he reviewed the document, and jurors saw his calendar entry from that day to corroborate that account. The governor also testified that he felt some time pressure to submit all the loan documents: the closing date was supposed to be Feb. 28, “which is very short,” McDonnell said.

“I knew to do that, I couldn’t really dilly-dally,” he said.

McDonnell said, too, that he had frequently exchanged documents with PenFed officials in many other loans before, and he treated most as drafts until the closing, when he would sign a “perfectly typed” loan application. McDonnell said he “never included on my bank applications corporate obligations.”

The testimony is important because it suggests any omissions on the documents were innocent and not meant to hide loans from Williams or influence PenFed. McDonnell’s assertion about “corporate obligations” might support the case that he felt he did not need to list the loans from Williams at all, because the businessman’s loans were technically directed to the real estate company the governor co-owned, not to him personally.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell is now moving on to discuss the two loan applications he filed that form the basis of allegations that he lied on financial forms. On neither of the forms did he include loans from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. among his liabilities. Prosecutors have suggested that the omissions were intended to hide the relationship with Williams and also constituted an illegal statement to the two banks.

He started with a personal financial statement filed to Townebank in October 2012, as part of an effort to renew a loan held from the bank. He said he did not include Williams’s 2011 loan, made out to Maureen McDonnell, because he did not believe a loan to his wife needed to be included on a statement of his personal liabilities. Likewise, he said he did not include Williams’s 2012 loans because they were made out to MoBo Real Estate Partnership, the limited liability corporation he owned with his sister.

Again, he said he had not assumed personal liability for the loans, so he did not believe they needed to be disclosed.

“I did not have personal liability,” he said. “And since it was a personal financial statement, I didn’t see that there was a place for them to be disclosed.”

“It was just for me and it was a personal financial statement for just me,” he said.

He said he was “absolutely not” trying to hide the loans from Williams. Just a week later, he authorized his accountant to submit his tax return to the IRS, which noted that Maureen McDonnell had sold stock in Williams’s company Star Scientific that year.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell said that by the end of 2012, he thought he had become friends with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and believed, technically, Williams’s gifts could be excluded from his annual disclosure form, since the law does not require including gifts from personal friends given for reasons unrelated to a politician’s elected office.

He said the trip fell into that category: “Mr. Williams hadn’t asked me to do anything.” McDonnell said Williams had received nothing more than “routine access to government.”

Still, he said he chose to disclose a trip given to him by Williams over Labor Day weekend to Chatham Bars Inn, describing the trip as more than $7,300 in flights to Massachusetts, lodging and “event expenses.”

He once again checked a box indicating that a member of his immediate family had a liability to an individual creditor that was worth between $10,001 and $50,000. He testified that this was, again, the loan Williams had given to his wife Maureen McDonnell the year before that was not yet paid off. While he described the occupation of the creditor in 2011 as “medical services,” he said that in 2012 he decided to change that descriptor to “health care.” He said he had learned more about the company by then. While the terms, he said, are “almost synonymous,” he decided health care was a “better description of what Star Scientific was doing at the time.”

He said he later learned the loan was actually from Williams’s Starwood Trust and indicated a better description in that line would have been “family trust.”

He did not disclose the $70,000 Williams had given in money to MoBo Real Estate Partners.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell testified Friday that he asked his staff to compare the gifts he disclosed as governor in 2011 with those disclosed by two of his predecessors because he “wanted to make sure I was at least where other governors were in the past.”

McDonnell said he learned that the gifts to him were “in the ballpark” with former governor Tim Kaine, but the gifts to former governor Mark Warner were significantly lower than his. He said he had taken some overseas economic development trips in 2011, and those increased the things he had to disclose.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Back from lunch, Robert F. McDonnell acknowledged he should have listed two golf outings and a Notre Dame golf bag that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave him in 2011 on his economic disclosure form for that year.

But the former Virginia governor insisted he was not trying to hide anything that Williams gave him, noting that he did disclose a trip the businessman had paid for on the same form. He listed that trip, to Smith Moutain Lake, as costing $2,268.

As he detailed what he did and did not disclose on the state-mandated form for the year 2011, McDonnell owned up to the mistakes with only a few caveats. He suggested that Williams had never told him the value of the bag and golf outings, nor sent any paperwork reflecting their value, but said the gifts still “should have been reported.”

He also said that in 2011, he did not consider Williams a personal friend, which would have allowed him not to report the gifts.

“Again, I take responsibility for that,” he said, referring specifically to the Notre Dame golf bag. “That’s an error.”

McDonnell’s apparent contrition might convince jurors that he was not trying to hide his relationship with Williams, and that he is willing to admit when he is wrong. McDonnell also did not list on the form the $15,000 that the businessman gave to his daughter Cailin for catering at her wedding. But he said he did not do so “because it was very clear to me that it was a wedding gift to Cailin, my daughter,” and under Virginia law, he was only required to report gifts to himself.

Similarly, McDonnell said he described as simply “medical services” a $50,000 loan Williams had given to his wife in a section of the form asking for personal debts of immediate family members because he was not asked to provide “the name of the creditor.”

“It’s simply the principal business or occupation,” he said.

He said he thought medical services was “a reasonable description” of what Williams and his dietary supplement company, Star Scientific, did at the time.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell said that when he told two staffers that Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s product Anatabloc was helping him, that statement was unconnected to any policy discussion.

On March 21, 2012, McDonnell held a meeting in his office with Secretary of Administration Lisa Hicks-Thomas and Director of Health and Human Resources Sara Wilson, both of whom have already testified at the trial. The meeting was intended to discuss a plan to lower state employee health costs, and it came a few weeks after a Star Scientific representative had met with Wilson to ask her to put Anatabloc on the state health plan. (Wilson declined.)

McDonnell testified Friday that he had no knowledge at that time about Wilson’s meeting. He said the three were chatting either before their formal meeting began or after it ended, and it became the time of day when he generally popped an Anatabloc pill. At the time, he said, he had been taking the dietary supplement three to four times a day for about a year.

He said he recalls that when he pulled the bottle from his pocket, one of the two staffers asked what it was, and he told them the product was made by a Virginia company. He said he thought “it was having a positive effect on me.”

“That was pretty much the sum of it,” he said.

Hicks-Thomas has testified earlier that McDonnell went on to tell the staffers that they should meet with Star Scientific representatives, though Wilson had testified that she did not believe that was the case.

“I doubt it,” McDonnell said when asked if he had done so. “I might have said, ‘You ought to reach out to them.’”

But he added, “I don’t have a good recollection of that.”

With that, McDonnell’s attorney indicated that he was ready to move on to another topic, so Judge James R. Spencer called for a lunch break until 2 p.m.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On Feb. 29, 2012, businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. was allowed to designate 25 people to receive invitations to an event being held at the governor’s mansion to honor Virginia health care leaders. Williams made sure he and a number of Star Scientific employees were on the list, along with a series of doctors the company was trying to impress.

Earlier, Secretary of Health Bill Hazel testified that he was irked to learn of the development for a reception his office was planning and that he did not consider Williams a health-care leader.

Friday, former governor Robert F. McDonnell testified that he was not heavily involved in the invitation process for mansion events. He conceded that he had reviewed a list of doctors in the state for possible invitation — his handwriting, along with his wife’s, is on that list. He also asked for several of his own doctors whom he considered leaders in their field to be invited. But it was not his own decision to invite Williams.

“For the first lady’s office to invite people to events at the mansion, I thought was fairly routine,” he said. “Having her invite people to events that the governor’s office initiates, I didn’t believe was inappropriate or abnormal.”

But he said he was not disturbed by Williams’s presence. “He was the CEO of a publicly traded Virginia business. They were in the health-care field,” he said. “It didn’t affect me that there was anything inappropriate about him being there.”

As for Hazel’s concerns, McDonnell said he learned of them only after the criminal investigation of his interactions with Williams began. “If there was a spat about invitations, that is not something that would typically be brought to me,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Jurors now know what Robert F. McDonnell wanted from his lawyer and policy adviser when he told him in a February 2012 e-mail: “Pls see me about anatabloc issues at VCU and UVA. Thx.”​

The governor was seeking answers about why no one at the state universities was returning calls from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Addressing a string of potentially damaging e-mails that chronologically link his inquiries about studies of Williams’s supplement, Anatabloc, to communications with the businessman about a possible loan, McDonnell acknowledged that he wanted to talk to the policy adviser about how Williams, a significant donor, was being handled by officials at the universities. Though he said he could not recall specifically whether he and the adviser, Jasen Eige, ever met to discuss Anatabloc, he said he knew “what I was going to tell him.”

“I was going to ask Mr. Eige to find out just what was going on,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said his wife had e-mailed him earlier that month to complain that no one at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University was returning Williams’s phone calls about possible Anatabloc studies. He said that he felt that because Williams had donated $200,00 to the schools, he “deserved at least a call back.”

Prosecutors have alleged that the governor used the power of his office to influence researchers at the state schools to study Anatabloc — just one of the things they say McDonnell did for Williams in exchange for $177,000 in gifts, loans and luxury goods.

Notably, McDonnell sent an e-mail to Williams on Feb. 16, 2012, asking about loan discussions — just before his early morning Feb. 17 note to Eige asking about VCU and U-Va.

The studies never occurred, though, and McDonnell seemed to minimize his involvement with the universities. He disputed his wife’s assertion in an e-mail that he was pushing for the studies and said he never talked to any officials from the schools himself about state grant funding of the studies, as Williams wanted.

“It would certainly not be accurate to say that I wanted to get this going,” he said. “That was between Mr. Williams and U-Va., VCU.”

Eige wrote back to the governor that they needed to be “careful” with the issue, though McDonnell said he “wasn’t exactly sure” what that warning meant, “other than what we should do, if anything, with the private sector.”

“My answer was very simple, he should get a phone call back and just find out what’s going on,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell also downplayed the timing of his inquiry about the loan and his inquiry about the studies. He said he sent the e-mails on a day he sent many others — some of which jurors saw — as he tried to tie up loose ends before a political trip to Ohio, Kansas and Missouri.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell testified that for a long time, he believed the dietary supplement made by Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s company, Star Scientific, was actually derived from tobacco. He found that idea appealing because it suggested there could be a healthy use for a longtime Virginia cash crop that has been in decline.

But at some point, he learned the truth: While tobacco contains the chemical anatabine, Star’s product Anatabloc actually uses a synthetic form the chemical that was being manufactured at a laboratory out of the state.

“I was very disappointed to hear that,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

One linchpin of the prosecution’s case against Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell involves a lunch that was held for Star Scientific at the governor’s mansion on Aug. 30, 2011. The company was allowed to invite researchers it was trying to impress, and the event was timed to coincide with the introduction of the company’s new dietary supplement to market.

McDonnell testified that he first learned of that event from an aide about two weeks in advance. The aide said a request had come “from the first lady’s office” for him to attend. He agreed he would stop by the event for about 30 minutes.

He said he played no role in the event’s planning or discussion about who should attend, despite handwritten notes on a list of invitees that had previously been displayed by prosecutors. McDonnell said he reviewed that list only on the day of the event, as he flew back to Richmond from Washington. He could not recall why he had placed an asterisk next to the name of a Virginia Commonwealth University doctor who was particularly important to Williams. He also wrote “gov’s office” next to the name of one of his own staffers.

“To the best of my recollection, this was a first lady’s office-driven event, and I didn’t have any input into who came.”

McDonnell said he arrived at the mansion for the event at about 12:35 p.m., when it was well underway. He said he greeted guests, ate lunch and listened as researchers described studies in progress. He asked questions too, asking to know more about whether the product Anatabloc could be good for Virginia.

At the event, Star Scientific also presented planning grants for scientists to research the key chemical in Anatabloc. “I’ve gone to check presentations where people give money to the state, so I thought it’d be okay for me to go,” McDonnell said.

He said none of his staff told him they had any concerns about the event, nor did they fill him in on conversations they’d had the evening before it was held, in which they asked that a Star Scientific press release linking the governor to the product be toned down.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Timing is perhaps the best evidence prosecutors have that connects gifts that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave the governor to actions the governor took on his behalf.

One example that is particularly damaging for Robert F. McDonnell: On July 31, 2011, the night he returned from a family vacation at Williams’s home on Smith Mountain Lake, he sent an e-mail to his health secretary asking him to send a deputy to a meeting with Williams and the first lady the very next day.

Prosecutors hope jurors will infer a connection between the vacation and the meeting request. But on the witness stand Friday, McDonnell said that there was nothing inappropriate or even out of the ordinary about what he did. He said the night his family got back from the Smith Mountain Lake trip, his wife, Maureen McDonnell, actually brought up to him that she was set to meet with Williams the next day.

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)

Jonnie Williams Sr.’s vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake, which was used by the McDonnells. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

The former governor said his wife told him that her chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, had put the meeting on her calendar, and they were supposed to discuss the prospect of Williams’s company, Star Scientific, having clinical trials performed on its supplement, Anatabloc, at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The former governor said he e-mailed Health Secretary Bill Hazel and requested he send a representative, “so that no commitments or decisions were made unless someone with the expertise was there.”

The former governor’s testimony helps his defense in a number of ways. First, it strongly links Sutherland to the meeting. Defense attorneys have argued that in the same time period, she was trying to arrange to leave the first lady’s service and take a job with Williams, and she was working at times behind her bosses’ backs to help the businessman.

Second, the governor’s account suggests he was actually working to prevent Sutherland or his wife from agreeing to assist Williams in a way that might be improper. He said Sutherland and the first lady were not experts in the area of studies at VCU and U-Va., and he wanted someone there who was, in case “anything was offered or cited or asked.”

McDonnell said he did not find out until the investigation whom Hazel actually sent to the meeting.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On Thursday, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell testified that he told his wife Maureen to sell her stock in Star Scientific in the fall of 2011. And she did, selling the shares just before the end of the calendar year. But on Jan. 20, 2012, she repurchased the stock.

On Friday, McDonnell said he had no idea she had taken that action until shortly before Christmas of that year, when his wife told him about the purchase and indicated she planned to give the shares to her children as Christmas gifts.

He said he was vaguely aware that his wife had been getting statements from their stock brokerage form during the year but he had not reviewed them. “I typically didn’t open her mail,” he said.

Of his reaction, he said, “I was pretty upset with her. Here she was buying a stock back that I had told her to sell.” He added, “I felt this was another time she was doing something and not telling me.”

And he said that move was especially upsetting because he knew he had a reporting requirement if she owned the stock. “I can do it,” McDonnell said that he said to his wife about reporting the shares. “But I don’t appreciate you doing something that affects me without my knowing about it.”

But he knew that his wife was passionate about the company and said it was her money she had used to buy the shares.

Over Christmas dinner, he said Maureen McDonnell told her children about the gift, telling them it was a particularly special gift for her because it was similar to a gift Robert McDonnell’s father made to her and McDonnell for their wedding years earlier.

He said he also heard his wife tell their children that she had bought the stock using inheritance money she had received when her father died. McDonnell said he knew that was not true — the money had actually come from Jonnie Williams. But he also knew that she viewed that money as a replacement for inheritance money he had insisted be spent to pay down credit card debt rather than to buy stock, as she preferred.

“I was not going to correct her on that point at Christmas dinner,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

So how did it come to be that Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s brother, of all people, performed home repair at the McDonnells’ private residence in the fall of 2012?

Former governor Robert F. McDonnell says that came about after his wife sought a reference for work from the dietary supplement executive. Their daughter and her new husband had been living in the house but recently moved out. The couple wanted to rent out their home but realized it needed some small repairs.

“My wife, as usual, she always likes to get referrals,” he said. So, he testified Maureen McDonnell discussed the issue with Williams, who told her that his brother maintained his own house and that the “small things that we needed to be done, we could engage him.”

McDonnell said he always intended to pay Donnie Williams for the work.

“Did you in fact pay for the work?” attorney Henry Asbill asked.

“Yes, we did,” McDonnell testified.

“When?” he asked.

“When it was done,” he said. In March 2013, Maureen McDonnell requested an invoice from Donnie Williams. He said he drew up a quick invoice at Maureen McDonnell’s request that did not cover all of his expenses, eager to have the matter completed as quickly as possible. By that time, she had already been interviewed by law enforcement.

But defense attorneys showed McDonnell invoices from subcontractors that Donnie Williams had hired to do various pieces of work. He paid those well before March.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell acknowledged Friday that he knew Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. intended to buy a generator for his daughter and future son-in-law as a gift for their “tool party” — the male equivalent of a bridal shower.

But he said he didn’t think the present would be overly lavish.

“I was thinking of one of the portable generators that you can buy at Home Depot,” McDonnell said.

Jurors have already heard testimony from Williams about the generator: The Star Scientific executive said he intended to actually install a generator at the home of Jeanine McDonnell and Adam Zubowsky, who were married in 2013, but the process proved so logistically difficult that he instead wrote a $10,000 check.

McDonnell said he did not know “at the time” that his daughter’s home was being inspected for generator installation. And he said he did not know until after the investigation started that Williams had written his daughter and son-in-law a $10,000 check.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·
Businessman Jonnie R. Williams testified that he provided the cognac when he entertained Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell and two other couples at the swanky Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, seen here. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

Businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. testified that he provided the cognac when he entertained Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell and two other couples at the swanky Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, seen here. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

As the summer of 2012 closed, businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. invited then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife to accompany he and his wife on a luxury vacation to Cape Cod.

Jurors have already heard extensive testimony about the trip, including discussion of the luxury dinners and accommodations it included and Williams’s own account that he considered the vacation a business trip. He brought along a doctor who was a consultant to his company Star Scientific and said he aimed to discuss Star and its supplement Anatabloc with the governor in the relaxed setting.

Now, McDonnell offers his own account: His wife arranged the trip and it was considered a “make-up” either for an earlier canceled vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine, or else for a trip to New York that Williams had won at a 2011 charity auction. “I think that’s how my wife looked at it,” he said.

McDonnell said the trip came right after he spent two weeks in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, and the offer of relaxation with his wife was welcome. He said Williams’s was not his only vacation offer and that such trips were appealing because it gave him time with family. “I didn’t see fancy hotels or boats,” he said. “I saw time.”

“There was very little business on the trip,” McDonnell said. He said he recalled few conversations about Star, except for one in which Williams brought up the company’s stock price and revealed that he was planning to cash out his own shares in coming years and leave the company.

“Did Mr. Williams ever ask you for anything from state government on that trip?” McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked the former governor.

“No,” he said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

In the spring of 2012, the real estate partnership owned by then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister found itself in a $20,000 hole.

McDonnell testified that the “operating deficit” came about in part because of a “diversion of funds” by his then-brother-in-law, Michael Uncapher.

He also said that the MoBo partnership had spent about $25,000 in capital improvements – improving the cabana, for instance – to improve the rental property’s “marketability.”

Bob McDonnell asked Williams for the extra $20,000.

And why did he turn to Williams for that, the governor’s defense lawyer, Henry Asbill asked.

“He told me on several occasions if we needed to borrow more [than the original $50,000 loan] … he would do that,” McDonnell said.

Jurors were shown text messages seen earlier in the trial where that extra money is discussed – along, in one case, with a snippet about Star’s business prospects.

“Just finished dinners w/ dozen doctors,” Williams texted the governor on April 28, 2012. “Growing fast. Let me know if Va Beach needs cash.”

McDonnell testified that he did not know what Williams’s “doctors” reference was about.

The governor texted Williams a few weeks later, on May 18, asking, “if you could extend another 20K loan. Call if possible and I’ll ask mike [cq lower case] to send instructions.”

Asbill if McDonnell if he thought such a loan was inappropriate. McDonnell said it was not because Williams had not asked him to do much of anything in 2012.

“The only thing he’d asked me that year was to call his father on his birthday,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said that he had not reported the loan on his annual financial disclosure report but he said he did not have to because the loans were a “corporate liability” that had not been personally guaranteed by him.

“I did not think a MoBo LLC loan from Starwood would have to be reported,” he said, referring to the Starwood personal trust that Williams tapped for the loan.

Text message from former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell to businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. asking for a loan. (Trial evidence)

Text message from former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell to businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. asking for a loan. (Trial evidence)

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