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Updates: Day 25 of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 29, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, left, arrives at federal court with his attorney, Henry Asbill, in Richmond on Thursday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, left, arrives at federal court with his attorney, Henry Asbill, in Richmond on Thursday. (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.

 Quiz: 10 questions | Interactive: McDonnell gifts list | Bob vs. Jonnie | Twitter: Latest | Previous days: The trial | Indictment

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

As Jonnie R. Williams Sr. did when he testified, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry attacked the defense claim that Maureen McDonnell was not obstructing justice when she returned designer dresses to Williams.

The letter McDonnell included with the dresses thanked him for the loan and said she hoped his daughters could wear them or they could be auctioned off for charity. Her defense attorney said in his closing argument that she was making no false statements in the letter and that she was not obstructing a grand jury investigation which did not yet exist.

“That doesn’t hold water,” Dry said, just before wrapping up his rebuttal. “These dresses were never intended” for Jonnie Williams’s daughters, “a model and a teacher, both size zeros.”

If they were loans, Dry noted, “why did Mrs. McDonnell wait until March 2013, almost two years, to return them?”

It was, he said “because she knows what’s coming down the pike” — the federal investigation. And obstruction of justice can include a future grand jury investigation, he emphasized.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry wrapped up his closing argument just before 6:30 p.m. with an understated plea to jurors. He told them no matter there verdict, there would be “no true winners.”

“In conclusion, this is a sad case,” he said. “Make no mistake about it. It’s sad for the McDonnell family. It’s sad for the state of Virginia.”

Then, after telling them not to be distracted by the defense’s arguments, he told them “There’s only one just verdict. And that’s guilty on every count.”

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer told jurors to return at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. He must still instruct them on the law in the case, and then their deliberations will begin.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell’s claim that it was merely an oversight that he did not list all his personal loans on a bank application was “an after the fact justification from a lawyer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry said. “You are smarter than that.”

Reminding the jury that at the busiest time of his life, McDonnell found time to pick out a specific set of bocce balls for his beach house, Dry said, “this man is the definition of attention to detail.”

Moreover, he noted that McDonnell had testified that he knew it was a felony to lie on a loan application, so he did not need to read the fine print as an average person might.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell is throwing his wife under the bus, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry said in his final words to the jury.

“It seemed like at every opportunity he could, he blamed his wife,” Dry charged, noting that in his testimony the former governor said he did not know in real time about Maureen McDonnell’s shopping spree, $50,000 loan, decision to keep the refund for catering at their daughter’s wedding, and Rolex — all from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — as well as the stock she held in Star Scientific. “He claimed that he knew about all of these things at very convenient times,” Dry said. “What makes more sense is that Mr. McDonnell is going to throw his wife under the bus, and she’s going to let him.”

He said it was “troubling” that Bob McDonnell claimed he got separate counsel after learning that his wife had returned dresses to Williams with a note thanking him for the loan. But in cross-examination, he said, McDonnell admitted that the decision had nothing to do with that.

That testimony “sadly made it clear that Mr. McDonnell’s bumper sticker should not have been ‘Bobs For Jobs,’ it should have been ‘Bobs For Bob.’”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Prosecutors pointedly made no reference to Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell’s marriage during their first closing statement.

But after defense attorneys discussed it at length in their statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry has addressed it now. He began by noting that it was the defense who made the marriage an issue through the case, not the prosecution.

He referred to the Sept. 5, 2011, note that Bob McDonnell wrote to his wife begging her to help him save the marriage. “No one can read that e-mail and not feel sympathy for what was going on at the time,” Dry said.

“Anyone who’s been married for a while know it’s a bumpy road, ups and downs,” he added.

“No one-absolutely no one — knows the happiness of that marriage other than the two people sitting over there,” Dry said.

“But we do know one thing: It does not matter,” he said, emphasizing each word.

He when jurors look at the instructions given to them by the judge defining a conspiracy, they will find that it does not require conspirators be happy. “You need not like your co-conspirators,” he said.

Conspirators need only be talking, and he said prosecutors showed ample proof the couple spoke and spoke about Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Their daughter Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky did not testify that the couple never spoke, Dry noted. She said they spoke only about “children and logistics.”

“You know what Jonnie Williams was? He was logistics and necessities,” Dry said.

He said all the details about the marriage discussed at the trial were “salacious and sad.”

“At the end of the detail, it just doesn’t matter,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry took a tactical gambit late Friday, telling jurors his own star witness was a “a criminal.”

“He is. Absolutely,” Dry said of Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the businessman at the center of the public corruption allegations against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife. “He’s a criminal because he bribed the defendants.”

The strategy is risky, because defense attorneys have argued vigorously about Williams’s lack of character and said he is only testifying against the McDonnells because of two generous immunity agreements. Dry’s admission that Williams did wrong could convince jurors to discount his testimony.

But it also could help jurors reconcile a negative image of Williams with a conviction of the governor and his wife. The prosecutor is saying, in essence, if you believe Williams is a criminal, you must also believe the governor is a criminal.

Dry also argued Friday that Williams’s immunity agreements force him only to tell the truth, and if he were “truly a government puppet,” he might have provided more vigorous testimony about an explicit bargain between himself and McDonnell.

“Why didn’t he just say there was an explicit quid pro quo agreement?” Dry asked.

And Dry said even if jurors discounted Williams’s testimony in its entirety, there was still “more evidence than necessary,” from documents and other witnesses, to convict the former first couple.

“You don’t have to like Mr. Williams,” Dry said. “You shouldn’t like Mr. Williams. He bribed the governor of Virginia.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry acknowledged in his final pitch to jurors Friday that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Maureen McDonnell exchanged “a lot of texts, and a lot of calls,” and, “she very well could be lonely and wanting attention.”

That would seem to support the defense’s assertion that the first lady was seeking Williams’s affection, rather than his money.

But Dry said it does not matter — as long as Maureen McDonnell conspired at least in part for Williams’s wealth.

“We all know that people very rarely act for a single reason,” Dry said.

Dry said jurors will be instructed that they can convict Maureen McDonnell even if she acted “in-part for other reasons.”

“Did Mrs. McDonnell like Mr. Williams? Sure. Did she believe in his product? Sure,” Dry said. “It’s not all about the vitamins, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not all about Mr. Williams.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

While there was no explicit, written-out quid pro quo between businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry said late Friday afternoon, “the timing makes it absolutely clear there was a corrupt agreement.”

Defense attorney Henry Asbill did not move chronologically in his closing argument, Dry said, because “if you lay out these facts chronologically, it does no good for his client.”

He pointed out that Maureen McDonnell e-mailed a picture to Williams of her husband in the businessman’s Ferrari, and an event for Williams’s company was scheduled a day later.

Bob McDonnell called Williams to negotiate a $50,000 loan at the same time Star Scientific employees were working on a guest list for a health-care event with the governor’s wife.

The “best evidence,” Dry said, was the six minutes between the e-mail Bob McDonnell sent Williams about the same $50,000 loan and the governor’s e-mail to his legal counsel saying he wanted to discuss scientific studies of Anatabloc at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

But there was also a meeting with a health-care official and Williams nine days after McDonnell had the $50,000 check deposited, and another meeting with an administration official three days after a Florida vacation.

“The timing in this case is devastating,” Dry concluded.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry has moved on to the topic of concealment, reinforcing for jurors the prosecution argument that, indeed, Bob McDonnell was hiding his relationship with Jonnie Williams in an important ways.

Again, he reiterated, he told his most senior advisers nothing. Dry said the argument that McDonnell was simply a private person who did not discuss his finances with subordinates fails when compared to the testimony of his chief of staff Martin Kent. Kent testified that to be the case and likewise said he would not discuss his own finances with his boss unless they were spilling over into state government.

But, Dry said, when McDonnell was making financial arrangements with Williams at the same time as the businessman was seeking to get public university research studies, that was indeed spilling over into state government.

What’s more, he told nothing to his legal adviser Jasen Eige, even though both acknowledged that a lawyer needs to know pertinent information to provide good advice.

Dry said the real reason he said nothing to staff was because he knew they would object.

“He’s staff was already pushing back. They’re already asking questions,” he said. “And they knew only half the story.”

Dry insisted, again, that he has discussed McDonnell’s state financial disclosure statements in the case not to allege that the governor broke state law. Instead, he said that as former delegate and attorney general, McDonnell exploited every “loophole” in the law to avoid disclosing details of his relationship with Williams.

For instance, he failed to disclose the check for his daughter’s wedding, characterizing it as a gift to her. “No,” Dry said. “He signed the contract. He made the payments. He was always intending to pay.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

There is no “express agreement” to exchange loans and gifts for government action in this case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry acknowledged in his rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments, which highlighted that very fact.

“That just didn’t happen,” he said. But “an agreement doesn’t need to be expressed.” If it did, he said the jury would learn when it read instructions from the judge, then all sorts of corrupt deals could be covered up because they were made through “winks and nods.”

“Nobody’s accused the defendant and Jonnie Williams of being stupid,” he said. “Those kinds of explicit agreements just don’t happen in the real world.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

In his last comments to jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry mocked defense attorneys for arguing that Robert F. McDonnell showed he had nothing to hide by turning over the notes he made on a loan from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

“The fact that he didn’t obstruct justice proves that he must be innocent?” Dry asked sarcastically. Moreover, he argued McDonnell should get no credit for handing the notes over, because Williams’s handwriting is on them as well. The businessman could well have told prosecutors about the notes independently.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry says a defense attorney left Secretary of Health Bill Hazel off his list of Cabinet secretaries who say businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. got nothing from Bob McDonnell.


“Because at the end of the day, Mr. Hazel is a devastating witness in this case,” he said, reading aloud from testimony from Hazel who talked in depth about how it was true that business people pitched product ideas all the time while McDonnell was in office — but that what went on with Williams was unique.

Why, Dry said, did Williams not get some of those things that defense attorneys have stressed he never got? No legislation, no economic incentive grants, no board appointments. It’s been a familiar recitation in the case. Dry say it’s because those were not the things Williams wanted.

“What did Mr. Williams want? He wanted the studies at UVA and VCU. He wanted the prestige of Mr. McDonnell’s office. He wanted him to attend meetings,” Dry said. “All of that is what he got.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

In his last pitch to jurors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry defended the case’s so-called “quo” — what Robert F. McDonnell did for Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Dry disputed the defense’s contention that Bob McDonnell knew very little about an August 2011 mansion event that helped Williams launch his supplement, Anatabloc, saying the governor’s briefing book made the event details clear.

He also disputed the defense’s contention that the governor never pressed anyone in state government to help Williams get studies done on Anatabloc. He referenced an e-mail exchange with which jurors are all too familiar, when the governor e-mailed a policy adviser about the studies six minutes after he e-mailed Williams about money.

Of an August 2012 health-care leaders reception, Dry said Bob McDonnell know his wife let Williams beef up the guest list. “No way he didn’t know,” Dry said.

And of a March 2012 meeting in which Bob McDonnell pulled out a bottle of Anatabloc and showed it to state human resources officials, suggesting they meet with Williams’s associates, Dry said it was only because of those officials’ good judgment that such a meeting never happened.

“That wasn’t because of Mr. McDonnell,” he said. “It was in spite of Mr. McDonnell.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry began his rebuttal with a definition of quid pro quo — “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” Even if you give Robert F. McDonnell “the benefit of every doubt,” he says, the former Virginia governor still knew of $150,000 out of $177,000 in gifts and loans.

Even if he didn’t know of his wife’s $50,000 loan from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. until two weeks later, Dry said, “Who cares? Within two weeks of the check coming in, he knows.”

“Why would he corrupt his office” for this largesse,” Dry asked. “He didn’t think he was going to get caught.”

As for not needing the defense contention that McDonnell didn’t need the money, Dry contended that the governor’s financial “rough patch” lasted two years, and he was already writing checks off credit cards to deal with it. But if he wasn’t desperate for the loans, Dry argued, “that doesn’t make it better, that makes it worse” that he would take them. Because in exchange for the largesse, he alleged, “Mr. Williams got his back scratched.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell’s defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill has finished his closing argument with a discourse on reasonable doubt, which he noted is the highest standard in the American justice system.

“You are entitled to have a lifetime of hard work building good character shield you from false allegations in suspicious circumstances, like the ones in this case,” Asbill said.

He said jurors should not have to struggle to find a jury, to come up with legal theories, to figure out the evidence. “It’s their job to give you the case on a silver platter,” Asbill said. “You are judges. You are not detectives.”

“If you think somebody might be guilty, if you think they are probably guilty, if you think they are likely guilty, it is not enough,” he said.

He said it is for jurors alone to decide what, exactly is “reasonable doubt.” He asked jurors that if they find themselves debating or arguing key points in the case with their “reasonable fellow jurors,” they should stop and think about whether that is because they are experiencing “reasonable doubt.”

“Don’t convict Bob of some charges and acquit him of others just to give prosecutors something for their effort,” he said. He said the “only just verdict” is to acquit McDonnell of all charges.

And now, on to one last word from lead prosecutor Michael Dry.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry Asbill dismissed the charts prosecutors used to try to show that Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell’s marriage was not so broken. An FBI agent testified earlier in the trial that the couple had spent 489 nights together in the executive mansion.

“Those charts don’t tell you anything about any events in a marriage,” Asbill said. Governor McDonnell may have been working late in his office many of those nights, he said; Maureen McDonnell may have been watching soap operas alone. They might be fighting and not speaking to each other.

The chart, he said, was typical of prosecutors’ “refusal to see any complexity, any gray, in marriage or in life.”

Bob McDonnell looked down at the table and Maureen McDonnell dabbed at tears as Asbill described their marital difficulties.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

“Why would Bob do these things?”

That is the question defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill just posed to jurors, asking them to consider what, possibly, could have motivated the former governor of Virginia to enter into a corrupt relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Asbill invited the jurors to take all the loans and gifts prosecutors allege Williams gave Robert F. McDonnell and his family and a “multiply it by ten.” Even for $1.7 million, Asbill said, McDonnell would not have sold his office.

Prosecutors have alleged McDonnell’s motive was financial distress: That a real estate company he co-owned with his sister was losing tens of thousands of dollars a year, and the governor and his wife were deep in credit card debt. Asbill acknowledged, “There’s no question about it being tight at some points during the life of the case,” but said at no point was McDonnell “without resources.”

“He doesn’t leave people he owes money hanging,” Asbill said. “One way or another, without resorting to crime, he finds a way to get it done, and get it done on time.”

Asbill said, “There’s no question that Jonnie’s loans were helpful,” but added quickly, “That’s far from proving that Bob McDonnell was a desperate man whose only option was to sell his office to Jonnie.”

  • Justin Jouvenal
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill just made his best pitch to jurors that Robert F. McDonnell did not intentionally lie on financial documents he submitted to banks when he omitted loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — arguing the loans did not need to be listed at all.

Asbill said several bank officials testified to that during the trial, and the notion that McDonnell hid things from them was “offensive.” He said McDonnell did not list the loans because they were made to his wife and a real estate company he co-owned with his sister, and the documents called on him only to list personal liabilities.

Asbill also countered the notion that McDonnell’s updating one of the loan applications on Feb. 18, 2013 — three days after his wife was interviewed by law enforcement — demonstrates that he was initially trying to conceal his dealings with Williams. He said McDonnell had planned to update the forms anyway, and because of his wife’s interview, took extra care to make sure any financial relationships he had with Williams were “100 percent accurate, 100 percent exposed, 100 percent open.”

Finally, Asbill asked jurors to consider their own finances, and what it would be like to face federal prosecution for a simple omission on a loan document.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

As he tries to shoot down prosecutors’ allegations that the way former governor Robert F. McDonnell filled out his state disclosure forms shows he was trying to conceal his relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., McDonnell’s defense attorney counters that prosecutors simply don’t like the forms themselves.

“You’re fully entitled to conclude, as many others have, that Virginia’s gift laws are far too lax, far too permissive,” he said.

He noted the laws have actually now been changed.

But, he added, “Virginia’s gift laws are not on trial.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell’s defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill says there is no evidence that McDonnell knew that a watch his wife gave him for Christmas in 2011 was actually purchased by Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

She gave it to him in a box from a different watch company, which bolsters his contention he thought it might be fake. Plus, she had money from serving on the board of the charitable arm of a coal company. Asbill said it is not surprising that McDonnell would not question the gift in the context of their marital problems.

Plus, he said there is no evidence that McDonnell sent Williams a picture of himself wearing the watch and that it is surprising that prosecutors even want to try to argue otherwise. “The desperate attempt to support Jonnie never ends,” he said.

He said it is clear that while one version of the picture was turned over to prosecutors by Williams, the other was turned over by Maureen McDonnell. It was in her possession. “They want you to believe this nonsense that my client … sent it to Jonnie.”

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