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Updates: Day 22 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 26, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell leaves with daughter Cailin Young at the end of the day of his corruption trial Monday at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell leaves with daughter Cailin Young at the end of the day of his corruption trial Monday at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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
  • ·

Before closing court for the day, Judge James R. Spencer gave jurors — and the rest of us — an outline on what’s left in the corruption trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell, now that the former governor’s testimony has ended.

He said McDonnell’s attorneys have one more witness to put on the stand (one of his lawyer’s stood to say that witness’s testimony would not take long).

After that, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer William Burck is expected to put several witnesses on the stand in the former first lady’s defense. (He stood to say he anticipates his case will take about three hours).

Finally, Spencer indicated, prosecutors will have the opportunity to present a rebuttal case. Neither the judge nor prosecutors provided information about how long they expect that to take.

“Slowly, but surely, we’re getting there,” Spencer told jurors.

Court will resume at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

After nearly 24 hours on the witness stand, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell closed his testimony repeating a couple of key points. He said he regretted taking so much from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., echoing an earlier statement that he allowed his life “to get out of balance.”

But in response to a question from his lawyer Henry “Hank” Asbill, McDonnell once again insisted Williams never asked for anything. “He did not,” McDonnell asserted.

“Are you 100 percent sure of that?” Asbill asked.

“Yes,” McDonnell said. But, he added, that he conducted an personal analysis with each gift and loan extended by Williams, as he did with all donors: Would it unduly influence his decision making? McDonnell said of Williams, he believed he could accept those items because the businessman was not seeking anything.

“Do you think you or your family took too many gifts or loans from Jonnie Williams?” Asbill asked.

“Yes,” McDonnell said.

“Do you regret that?” Asbill asked. “Yes,” McDonnell replied. “I only knew part of the gifts at the time because some of them were not related to me. But I’m responsible for my family.”

“I, as governor, allowed by life to get out of balance,” he said, indicating his judgment was off-center regarding the gifts of which he was aware. “That was my error.”

Finally, Asbill asked, why did McDonnell provide so much detail about his problematic marriage on the stand? The former governor started to explain that the charges in the case allege that he was in a criminal conspiracy with his wife. A prosecutor objected, so Asbill rephrased his question:

“Did you feel you had to do it to defend yourself?” Asbill asked.

“Yes, I did,” McDonnell said.

And, with that, Asbill was done and McDonnell stepped down from the witness stand.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill has pressed Robert F. McDonnell again whether he was willing to disclose his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on his state financial forms and, again, McDonnell says he was.

In response to questions from Asbill, McDonnell insisted that he complied with state laws — disclosing the loan from Williams to his wife in 2011 in the required format. He omitted references to $15,000 in wedding catering costs for his daughter because the form does not require disclosing gifts to family members.

Asbill asked, “with the exception of a coupla’ golf games,” did he comply with state law in all instances?

McDonnell said that he had.

“Have you ever been accused of violating state law with regards to the [state of economic interest]?” Asbill asked.

“No,” McDonnell replied.

“Did you think that Mr. Dry was suggesting yesterday that you violated state law?” Asbill asked.

“Objection,” prosecutor Michael Dry interjected. Judge James R. Spencer sustained the objection.

A reminder: Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring conducted an investigation into whether McDonnell had violated state law. He closed that investigation right after McDonnell was charged federally, indicating that any state charges would be “subsumed and covered by the evidence in support of the federal investigation.”

Herring said then that he “would not feel comfortable” saying whether he thought McDonnell broke state law. But asked whether Virginia residents should conclude that state investigators had ended the probe because they decided that McDonnell had complied with the law, Herring said, “No.”

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

We have just heard a little more – a very little — about Maureen McDonnell’s alleged history of making inappropriate requests for money.

That topic was first brought up Monday during cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry. The prosecutor raised the matter, without going into detail, when he suggested Robert F. McDonnell should have known that his wife might be asking businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for things since she’d had a history of making inappropriate requests.

The former governor confirmed that she’s made some inappropriate requests but indicated that they dated back many years. No one elaborated.

But on the stand just now, under questioning from his own lawyer, McDonnell said that his wife made requests on “a couple of occasions” in 1988 and 1989 when he was in law school.

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked McDonnell if he knew for certain whether his wife had made any inappropriate requests of Williams: “I don’t,” he said.

He was asked specifically if McDonnell knew his wife had asked Williams for the first of two $50,000 loans, or if Williams had simply offered up the money because he was already giving a $15,000 check to pay for a McDonnell family wedding.

“Who solicited whom?” Asbill asked. “I don’t know for sure,” McDonnell replied.

Asbill also entered a 402-page document into evidence. The record was made up entirely of photographs of the then-governor appearing at ribbon cuttings and other business-related events with a company logo in the background, on the rostrum or otherwise in view.

The point behind the presentation was to combat the notion that McDonnell had ever done anything out of the ordinary for Star Scientific.

Williams’s company did not have the governor’s permission to post a photo of McDonnell, smiling and holding a bottle of its dietary supplement Anatabloc, on the company’s Web site, he testified.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell’s lawyer has just taken up a question that prosecutor Michael Dry had raised on cross-examination.

Dry had asked several times about whether McDonnell had informed state legal counsel or other top staffers about his financial entanglements with Williams. McDonnell had said no.

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked the former governor why he had never clued his staffers in that he had been engaged, as Dry had suggested, in “some sort of an illegal quid pro quo.”

“Because I wasn’t,” he said.

Asbill also got McDonnell to say that the Internal Revenue Service has never challenged the way he had reported the loans.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill has turned his attention to a letter written to the then-governor by Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in June 2011.

In the letter, Williams described his desire to see studies conducted at public universities in Virginia of his company’s new dietary supplement.

Prosecutors have pointed to the letter repeatedly to demonstrate that Robert F. McDonnell knew exactly what Williams wanted during the time the businessman was showering the then-governor and his family with gifts and loans.

Asbill asked McDonnell to turn his attention to the last line of the letter: “Once you have had a chance to review this, please have someone on your staff contact me,” Williams wrote.

“Did you ever have anyone on your staff contact Jonnie Williams in response to this letter?” Asbill asked.

“No,” McDonnell said.

“Ever?” Asbill said.

“No,” McDonnell repeated.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell has testified repeatedly that he did not tell his subordinates about gifts and loans received from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. because he did not discuss his personal finances with his employees.

But now he added another reason: He said he never liked to discuss donor status with staff because he didn’t think money should play a role in their decision making.

“My view has always been that government should be money-blind and colorblind,” he said. If a staffer knew a person’s status as a donor, “That could either help or hurt that person’s treatment in front of government.”

McDonnell said he believed everyone should have access to government, regardless of whether they had or had not given gifts or campaign donations.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

At the questioning of defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill, Robert F. McDonnell addressed, point by point, some of the most damaging pieces of evidence brought forth by prosecutors’ questions.

Based on the idea that McDonnell was personally liable for the $70,000 in loans that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. gave his real estate company, and thus, should have listed them on personal financial statements, Asbill asked, “Were there ever any personal guarantees that you gave for the Jonnie Williams loans to MoBo [the real estate company]?”

“No, neither orally or in writing,” McDonnell responded.

On the point about Williams making a bad investment in giving McDonnell the loans and doing so only because the then-governor was helping him, Asbill asked, “Did Mr. Williams get his money back per the agreement?”

“Yes, I paid him back with interest last year,” McDonnell responded. He went on to say MoBo had never failed to repay a debt in nine years, and he personally had never failed to repay a debt “in my adult life.”

Since prosecutors brought up the interview with Sean Hannity where McDonnell in which he said “You can’t spend more than you have for any period of time. You go broke,” despite his real estate company losing tens of thousands each year, Asbill also asked: Wasn’t that comment about the state budget? And, “did you, in fact, balance the state budget?”

“Four years in a row,” McDonnell responded.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell has testified again that he had no idea his secretary of health had concerns about businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s role in shaping an event for health-care leaders at the governor’s mansion in February 2012.

Secretary of Health Bill Hazel’s testimony was one of the most dramatic moments of the prosecution’s case. Hazel said he couldn’t think of another situation like what he observed with Williams, who seemed to have unusual access at the mansion.

“Dr. Hazel never told me there was a flap over invitations,” McDonnell testified Tuesday, in response to questions from his own attorney. “That wouldn’t normally be the kind of thing he’d come to see me about.”

He said he didn’t hire Hazel to be a “yes man,” in Asbill’s words, praising the doctor as “skilled” and “very independent.” “That’s why I hired him,” McDonnell said.

This line of questioning, defense attorneys hope, will lead jurors to conclude Hazel might have come to his own opinion about the event honestly but it may not have reflected reality or what others perceived. McDonnell has repeatedly testified that the role Williams played at the event was not unusual.

Asserting Hazel’s independence helps McDonnell on another front. In November 2010, McDonnell arranged a meeting for Williams with the health secretary. Asbill asked him: Was Hazel the kind of guy who would be guaranteed to just give Williams something once a meeting was set? McDonnell responded indeed, he was not.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

During questioning by his own defense attorney, Robert F. McDonnell is working to bolster his claim that his marriage was so broken that he could not conspire with his wife to solicit the largesse of Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Of the 18 trips they took together over a roughly two-year stretch, McDonnell said he and Maureen McDonnell went on just one alone, and there was significant tension during that vacation — as there were on many.

“There was not a lot of communication during that time,” McDonnell testified. “We spent a lot of time reading.”

McDonnell testified that an another trip in 2011, he actually confided in his oldest daughter, Jeanine, now 33, about some of his marital woes. She has not been called to testify yet, though perhaps she will be to support her father’s account.

“I told her I was worried about her mom because of these chronic flashes of anger,” McDonnell testified. He said he later told his daughter they should “try to do everything that we could to embrace and encourage Maureen to stop the anger.”

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill asked how many times, on their many vacations, had McDonnell and his wife discussed “the nature and extent of her relationship with Jonnie Williams.”

“Probably none,” McDonnell said, his voice flattening after a long pause.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell walked hand-in-hand with his wife at least twice when they appeared in court in the several months before the trial. At least once he shielded Maureen McDonnell from the rain with an umbrella. The touching moments were caught on camera, and then used by prosecutors to try to dismantle the McDonnells’ so-called broken marriage defense at their federal corruption trial.

So what does the former governor have to say about the photos, in light of what he has testified about the near failure of his marriage?

In sum: McDonnell said he and his wife leaned on one another during a difficult time. And he said he did not know then the depth of her relationship with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

“I’ve known Maureen for 41 years, and we’ve had some very, very difficult times over the last 10,” McDonnell said, responding to questions from his defense attorney, Henry “Hank” Asbill.

“To be charged with 14 felonies, it was just a crushing experience for my wife and I,” he continued. “We knew in our hearts that we had not done anything improper, wrong or illegal, and we wanted to support each other.”

Asbill then asked him if he knew when he appeared in court in January and the spring of this year, the depth of his wife’s contact with Williams. Jurors know the first lady and the businessman exchanged 1,200 texts and calls over the period of the indictment.

“Have you learned more than you knew in real time?” Asbill asked.

“Yes, I have,” McDonnell said.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, leave the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 24 in Richmond. McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty to a 14-count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, leave the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 24 in Richmond. McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty to a 14-count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill has returned former governor Robert F. McDonnell to the issue of disclosure: Why would he include one gift from Richmond businessman Bill Goodwin on his annual form, but strike out a $23,000 vacation from the same person on the very same form?

This came out during McDonnell’s cross-examination, in which a prosecutor noted the discrepancy. McDonnell decided against including the vacation because he considered Goodwin a “personal friend,” from whom gifts did not have to be disclosed.

Under questioning, McDonnell said he included the other gift — a nearly $1,000 Cabinet retreat — because Virginia law requires gifts related to an elected official’s public position to be disclosed, even if it is from a personal friend. He said he considered the retreat linked to his official role. The vacation to the Kiawah Island resort in South Carolina, he said, was not.

Asbill then asked if Goodwin ever asked McDonnell for anything. Unlike businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., McDonnell immediately said that he had. Asbill then displayed a letter that Goodwin sent in March 2012, in which Goodwin asked the then-governor to reappoint his son-in-law, Robert Hardie, to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia. That letter came two months before the free vacation.

McDonnell testified that he did not believe Hardie shared his vision for higher education reform and he declined, one of many times, he said, when he told a donor “no.”

But, under questioning from Asbill, he testified that he later went to Goodwin to ask for what Asbill termed “a huge personal favor.” He asked Goodwin to serve as an adviser to that same Board of Visitors, to help right the university after tensions over the near-firing of university president Teresa Sullivan. He said it took some persuading but he needed the help of the ex-board member and successful businessman.

(Not mentioned by either Asbill or McDonnell: While Goodwin joined the board as an informal adviser, McDonnell formally reappointed him to the panel in July 2013.)

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense Attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill is now working backward through the issues that emerged at the end of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s cross-examination.

For instance, prosecutor Michael Dry had suggested that when McDonnell amended a loan application to the Pentagon Federal Credit Union on Feb. 18, 2013 to include loans from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — three days after his wife was interviewed by state police — that meant he knew the loans needed to be disclosed.

“Did you overdisclose?” Asbill asked McDonnell on redirect. “Yes, I did,” McDonnell said, insisting that he had never disclosed corporate liabilities and only did so in that case to be particularly careful.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has been turned back over to his defense attorneys, who will now attempt to shore up pieces of his testimony with redirect examination.

To that end, defense lawyer Henry “Hank” Asbill picked up with McDonnell right where Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry left off — that quote from scriptures that the then-governor had included in his 2010 inaugural speech: “to whom much is given, much is required.”

“Was anything required of you in exchange for what Mr. Williams gave to you and your family?” Asbill asked McDonnell.

“Absolutely not,” McDonnell responded.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Before his dramatic finish, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry wanted to demonstrate that even though Robert F. McDonnell listed loans from Williams’s trust to his real estate company and Star Scientific stock his wife had sold on various tax documents, that information was vague and could not be connected directly, immediately and publicly to the businessman.

Dry asked the governor, at one point, “Tax returns, you know they’re not publicly available, correct?”

The governor’s response: “Mine is now!”

It drew a laugh from the courtroom, one of the few moments of levity in an otherwise blistering cross-examination.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Bringing his cross-examination of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell to a close, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry flashed for jurors the text of the governor’s inaugural 2010 speech.

Toward the end, the governor quoted religious texts, saying, “The Scriptures say, to whom much is given, much will be required.”

“Mr. Williams gave you and and your family approximately $177,000 in gifts and loans, didn’t he?” Dry asked.

“Yes,” McDonnell responded tepidly.

The implication — if it isn’t obvious — is that the businessman’s largesse came with strings attached, and McDonnell knew it.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On direct examination, Robert F. McDonnell suggested that an e-mail he sent to his bookkeeper in early Feb. 2013, giving her access to the bank account of the partnership he co-owned with his sister, was a sign that he had nothing to hide. He made that move before the key law enforcement interview of his wife on Feb. 15, 2013.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry has tried to cast doubt on just how much transparency McDonnell’s actions would suggest. After all, Dry asked, wouldn’t access to the bank account merely allow the bookkeeper to see the image of a check made out to the partnership, called MoBo, from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s Starwood Trust? McDonnell agreed that was the case. It would not, Dry asked, have included reference to Williams by name? McDonnell again agreed.

Dry continued: It also would not have included any reference to meetings Williams received with government officials or a mansion event held for his company?

“That’s absolutely right,” McDonnell said, adding wryly, “I don’t think any of that is required for tax preparation.”

Dry then noted that in March 2013, after Maureen McDonnell had been interviewed about Williams by Virginia State Police, McDonnell for the first time e-mailed the bookkeeper and asked that she sign a confidentiality agreement.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry is going over the financial disclosure form that then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell filed in early 2013 to cover 2012.

In the area of personal liabilities, Dry noted, the $50,000 loan Jonnie R. Williams Sr. made to the real estate partnership owned by the governor and his sister is not listed. Nor is the $20,000 wire transfer that Williams provided to the partnership.

“That’s correct because it says, ‘personal debts,’” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said that if the check and wire transfer had been made to him personally, rather than to MoBo, he would have disclosed them as loans to himself. Under state ethics law, corporate loans do not need to be disclosed.

Dry suggested that McDonnell had purposely evaded that reporting requirement. Jurors have seen evidence that Williams asked the then-governor whom he should make the check out to, and McDonnell had said MoBo.

But McDonnell said that was his response because the money was, in fact, for MoBo.

“It was always about MoBo,” he said. “That’s the proper creditor – excuse me – debtor.”

On the same form, Dry noted, McDonnell had not listed a string of gifts provided to McDonnell that year: two golf outings at Williams’s private country club, an expensive dinner at La Grotta in Richmond and repair work performed by Williams’s brother at the McDonnells’ suburban Richmond home.

McDonnell took issue with the characterization of the repair work as a gift because he’d planned to pay Donnie Williams “and the three contractors who’d worked with him.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry has just finished questioning Robert F. McDonnell about a February 2013 interview in which his wife was interrogated by state police. He has testified previously that he was upset about the interview — which McDonnell said was billed to him as an investigation into the former chef at the governor’s mansion. Ultimately, though, investigators asked his wife about Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and other subjects.

McDonnell responded to questions from Dry about the matter largely the same way he did to his own defense attorneys. He said his wife told him about the interview the night before, and he thought investigators were focused primarily on the chef, who was then thought to have stolen food from the mansion. He said he reviewed documents with his wife that night about his daughter’s wedding because he knew the chef “claimed that he was not fully paid for the wedding reception.”

Notably, McDonnell claims that is when he found out that his wife had pocketed a refund check from the wedding that he believed had gone to his daughter.

McDonnell told Dry: “I was disappointed, and I was angry,” after learning what investigators had actually asked about. He said he was upset, in particular, about the “representation” the head of state police had made to him in arranging the interview through his chief of staff.

Dry pressed the governor if he knew — at that point — that he personally might be under investigation.

“I wasn’t sure,” the former governor said. “There was one question about me.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

On a draft of his 2012 state-required economic disclosure form, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell crossed off a $23,000 Kiawah Island vacation — paid for by Henrico hotelier William Goodwin Jr. — and wrote “personal” next to it.

The former Virginia governor has testified Goodwin, at that point, was a personal friend, and thus his gift did not need to be reported.

But on the same draft form, the governor did not cross off a $920 gift — listed as “cabinet retreat” — which also apparently came from Goodwin. The governor ultimately reported that gift on his final form, while leaving off the island vacation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry highlighted the inconsistency as he cross-examined McDonnell Tuesday, though he did not ask the governor to explain it.

Perhaps McDonnell’s own defense attorney will clear up the matter when given another opportunity to question his client.

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