The Washington Post
Local ⋅ Live Blog

Updates: Day five of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 1, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, surrounded by reporters, arrives for his trial at the federal courthouse on Thursday in Richmond. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, surrounded by reporters, arrives for his trial at the federal courthouse on Thursday in Richmond. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

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

Twitter: Latest | Key players: Who to watch | Previous days: The trial | Photos: McDonnell in court 

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Judge James R. Spencer has adjourned the trial of Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell for the weekend a bit early, noting to jurors that “some of you are dragging.” He asked them to come back rested and sharp at 9:30 a.m. Monday, concluding the first wild week of the case. Lawyers estimate that the trial will likely continue for four more weeks.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney Henry Asbill is continuing to press the point: Did Jonnie R. Williams Sr. know personally that the governor knew about some of his communications with Maureen McDonnell?

Did Williams know for certain, for instance, that he knew she had invited him to a Cure by Design fashion show? He did not.

Did he discuss a health leaders industry reception in February 2012 — for which, Williams testified, the first lady had allowed him to put together the list of people to invite — with the governor when the event was being planned?

Williams also concurred that he never showed the governor the videos of his wife promoting Star Scientific in Michigan and California, videos played for the jury on Thursday.

Likewise, Williams on Thursday testified that Maureen McDonnell had asked him to provide the names of officials at the University of Virginia who were holding up studies of Williams’s product. He said she indicated her husband had asked for them, and prosecutors showed e-mails of Williams forwarding along the names. But on Friday, Williams agreed that he had not heard directly from the governor about the topic.

Williams, however, repeated something he had previously said, that Robert F. McDonnell asked him how the studies were going when he phoned to ask for money in February 2012. Asbill noted that Williams had not been shown any phone record that reflected a phone call between the two in the timeframe Williams’ claimed it had taken place.

What about the expensive dinners Williams treated the McDonnells to? Wasn’t it the wine that made those dinners so expensive — wine that had been ordered by Williams? The businessman did not dispute the idea. “Mr. Perito once represented the French wine industry, so I know a little something about wine,” Williams said, referring to Paul Perito, then the chairman of the board of Star Scientific, who he had previously indicated was a prominent attorney.

And would the governor had known if the wine that Williams selected cost $50 or $500? Williams said he would not have allowed the governor to know that.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

​Jonnie R. Williams Sr. testified Friday that he never talked directly to Robert F. McDonnell about the product launch at the governor’s mansion for one of his company’s products — at least not before the event actually took place. His conversations to arrange the event, he said, ran through the governor’s wife and her chief of staff.

Although the governor ultimately appeared at the launch — asking what Williams termed “good questions” — defense attorneys will likely try to highlight Williams’s acknowledgment about who actually arranged it to argue the governor never agreed to perform or performed official acts for Williams.

And in this case, Williams testified he felt it was appropriate to let his company use the governor’s mansion.

“I couldn’t imagine a better place to have it done,” he said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·
The Rolex watch given to former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in seen.  The watch is engraved with the words "Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia."  (Trial evidence)

The Rolex watch given to Robert F. McDonnell. The watch is engraved with the words “Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia.” (Trial evidence)

Jonnie R. Williams Sr. said Friday that Robert F. McDonnell never asked him for — nor did the two of them ever discuss — the infamous Rolex watch the businessman purchased, lending strong credence to the governor’s previous public assertions that he viewed the item as a Christmas gift from his wife.

Williams again described how the governor’s wife asked for the expensive watch during an August 2011 meeting, but he made clear the idea — as it was relayed to him — was that she would give it to her husband for Christmas, not that he himself would.

“Without him supposedly knowing about it? Knowing that it came from you?” defense attorney Henry Asbill asked Williams.

“That’s between the two of them,” Williams responded.

Later, Williams said the gift to McDonnell was “from her” and “not from me.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Jonnie R. Williams Sr. testified that Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, got him a meeting at a company called Health Diagnostics Laboratory. Sutherland’s cousin was the director of marketing at the company, and Williams had indicated that he needed the company to perform blood tests for Star Scientific as part of its studies.

Williams says Sutherland was also involved setting up a key Aug. 1, 2011, meeting, where the businessman met with a Virginia health official and Maureen McDonnell. Defense attorney Henry Asbill asked Williams, “Do you recall telling [health official] Molly Huffstetler that your company had already gotten $3 million from the tobacco commission?” Williams responded, “No.”

Williams agreed that would not have been accurate.

Expect to potentially hear more about that claim when Huffstetler eventually takes the stand.​

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

At the questioning of defense attorney Henry Asbill, star prosecution witness Jonnie R. Williams Sr. acknowledged Friday several occasions in which the governor himself was not directly involved in soliciting gifts that went to his family or arranging things that helped Williams’s company.

Robert F. McDonnell, Williams testified, did not request a hop-scotching plane pick up three of his kids before taking them to the Homestead resort in western Virginia. The businessman said he never talked to the governor about — and the governor did not go to — a July 2011 symposium for his company at Gibson Island.

Williams also acknowledged that McDonnell did not specifically ask to let his family use Williams’s Smith Mountain Lake vacation home, and the governor might not have known how the infamous Ferrari made its way there for the trip. Asbill asked specifically about a photo which shows the governor smiling in the car, top down.

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen driving the Ferrari of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (Trial evidence)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is seen driving the Ferrari of businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (Trial evidence)

“He didn’t take that of himself, did he?” Asbill asked.

“I don’t think so,” Williams responded. He said later the car, which he arranged to have delivered for the McDonnells’ trip, simply “showed up,” and he was not sure if the governor was there before it did.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and wife, Maureen, are seen in a Ferrari owned by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (Exhibit from the trial)

Robert F. McDonnell and wife, Maureen, are seen in a Ferrari owned by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. (Exhibit from the trial)

Testifying about the Ferrari that was dispatched for a McDonnell family vacation at Smith Mountain Lake, star prosecution witness Jonnie R. Williams Sr. dismissed the car as one that was simply “okay” to drive.

“I have a Toyota Camry I’m driving right now, and I’m okay with that,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Jonnie R. Williams Sr. has acknowledged that he has given conflicting stories about when and how he met with Robert F. McDonnell to discuss with him the $50,000 loan Williams made to Maureen McDonnell in May 2011.

When he first met with authorities in January 2013, he said he spoke with the governor by phone two days after he made the loan.

In the summer of 2013, after Williams had been given immunity, he described an in-person meeting with the governor in the Patrick Henry Building to discuss the topic. Williams now says he was confusing the conversation about the $50,000 he lent the first lady in 2011 and the meeting he held with the governor to discuss a new $50,000 loan in 2012. That meeting took place in the Patrick Henry Building; the governor voluntarily turned over notes the two men both took on a single piece of paper to authorities during the session.

Now Williams says he can’t quite remember how the conversation about the first loan took place — whether it was in person or on the phone. He says he believes it occurred around the day he brought the check to the mansion, along with a $15,000 check to cover the catering at the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding.

Asbill then noted: Does prosecutor Michael Dry have all of Williams’ phone records?

“I believe Mr. Dry has a lot of things,” Williams said.

Did Dry find a record of a phone call between Williams and the governor in that time frame, Asbill continued?

Williams said he did not know.

But Asbill noted, no phone record was entered into evidence.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

In response to tough questioning from Robert F. McDonnell’s defense attorney, Henry Asbill, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. acknowledged that he never told the governor about the $20,000 shopping spree on which that he took McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, in April 2011.

That’s despite the fact that he has testified that he spoke to McDonnell about the $50,000 loan he made to Maureen a month later because he would not loan another man’s wife money without his permission. But Williams said the clothing trip was different because Bob McDonnell knew the two were in New York together and because he had discussed buying the first lady a dress in McDonnell’s presence a year earlier.

“How you could hide all those shopping bags, I don’t know,” Williams said.

The two went around on the topic a few times.

Did Williams have personal knowledge that McDonnell was aware of the shopping trip? Asbill asked? Williams would not relent. “He was there in New York. They were staying together in New York. I assume with all those shopping bags, I just don’t know how you could hide it.”

Again, Asbill asked, his voice rising: “Did you have personal knowledge that he knew?”

“No,” Williams said.

Asbill also asked Williams if he toldinvestigators in January 2013 that Maureen McDonnell was “like a kid in a candy shop” during the day in New York. “It’s a phrase that I would use — in public like this, I think ‘exuberant’ is a better word.”

He also confirmed that he told authorities that the trip was the most awkward event in his life. “It still feels awkward, so I probably did,” he said.

Asbill appeared to aiming for the jury to conclude that it was odd that Williams would have not mentioned so awkward an encounter to the governor on the evening it took place.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

At the questioning of defense attorney Henry Asbill, prosecutors’ star witness Jonnie R. Williams Sr. acknowledged Friday that the first occasion he spent significant time with Robert F. McDonnell — a 2010 trip on his private plane — was largely an opportunity of his own making, rather than an instance of the governor seeking his largesse.

Williams testified that in October 2010, he let the governor use his private to fly to California. Hopeful to pitch his company’s supplement to the leader of Virginia, Williams said he then himself flew commercial to the West Coast so he could accompany the governor on the private jet back to Richmond.

He said he did not talk personally with the governor about the arrangement, although their respective offices might have talked.​ Despite that, he said he was sure “that I would be able to come back with him.”

“Well, it was my airplane,” Williams testified. “It wouldn’t leave without me.”

Williams said he spent the lengthy flight aggressively pitching his supplement. “I was more than chatting,” Williams said. “I was working.” And while the governor fell asleep at some point, Williams said, he felt the pitch went well: A state police officer on the flight, he said, asked if he had some of the supplement so he could give it to his father.

Williams said he then asked if he could talk to a health official, and the governor agreed.

“That’s great,” he said. “It was worth the trip.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

Prosecutors in the corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, introduced the infamous Rolex watch given by businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. as a key piece of evidence in the trial. The Post’s Rosalind Helderman explains.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell’s defense attorney, Henry Asbill, is now working to tease out various issues that federal and state authorities asked Williams about when they first visited him in January 2013. Here’s one that hasn’t been out before: Asbill asked him about a $1.5 million mistake in gift taxes that were made on Williams’s returns at some point. (When was not specified in testimony).

Williams said the mistake was the result of an error by his Northern Virginia lawyer, B. J. Haynes.

“It wasn’t an issue of you providing correct or timely info?” Asbill asked.

“I think he would tell you so, too,” Williams said of the notion that it was Haynes’s mistake.

Williams then acknowledged that he had given B.J. Haynes’s children large wedding gifts as he had McDonnell’s children. Asbill asked him if it was fair to say that he liked to help people out when they were getting started or getting married.

“I like to help everyone,” Williams said. “I don’t want anyone to have any problems. But in the case of B.J. Haynes, he had helped me a lot over the years, and I was doing this to help him.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·
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 Robert F. McDonnell regarding a $50,000 loan. (Trial evidence)

Prosecution star witness Jonnie R. Williams Sr. acknowledged Thursday afternoon that Robert F. McDonnell voluntarily turned over notes the two of them had taken during a one-on-one meeting to discuss what ultimately became a $50,000 loan — a point defense attorneys seem to hope will show the governor was not trying to cover up their discussion.

Testifying about some handwritten notes from the meeting at the Patrick Henry Building, Williams testified that some of the writings were from him, and others were from the governor. He acknowledged that the governor — not he himself — turned over the notes to prosecutors.

The meeting is one of the key cogs in the corruption allegations against McDonnell, as it shows a direct contact between him and the businessman, and it also might show evidence of the governor’s intent to hide his dealings. Williams had testified previously the two men shared a desire to keep the transaction private, and they discussed ways to do so.

But in a question, defense attorney Henry Asbill noted that it might be “odd” for the governor to not only keep, but also turn over to investigators, notes of a meeting he hoped no one would find out about.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Lunch break is over at the trial of former governor Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell, and witness Jonnie R. Williams Sr. is now being questioned by Henry Asbill, a lawyer for the former governor.

Asbill has started the afternoon by going straight to the most striking issue of the morning: Williams’s apparently selective memory. He asked Williams why didn’t he review reports from his previous interviews with prosecutors to better prepare him to answer questions about those sessions?

“The lawyers that I’ve retained are very experienced lawyers, and they used their best judgments to prepare me for this testimony,” Williams said.

“Some things I can” remember, he acknowledged. “Some things I can’t. The dates are hard for me. If I could just tell you what happened in my own words, I think I’m good with that.”

Asbill asked Williams if he has developed an especially good memory to compensate for the fact that he has trouble reading. His assistant earlier testified that Williams has dyslexia. “I generally don’t a problem remembering,” he said.

Then Asbill asked him this: “Does Anatabloc help with short-term memory?” That’s the dietary supplement made by Williams’s company that the executive spent a lengthy amount of time discussing Thursday. “In mice it does,” he replied. But, he added, though he takes Anatabloc, he does not believe it has assisted his own memory: I don’t think it’s had an effect on my memory. I don’t think I have a problem with memory for it to effect.”

Williams also estimated he had spent two weeks preparing for his testimony with his own lawyers and with prosecutors. After making clear that Williams had refused to meet with defense attorneys, Asbill asked the witness: “There’s nothing I can do to help you in any way?” trying to draw a contrast with prosecutors, who could offer Williams immunity.

“You could let me go home,” the witness replied.

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·

While the corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell is on break, it’s a good time to look back at the plea deal the former governor rejected, which would have spared his wife completely while forcing him to plead guilty to one charge.

 [A]uthorities proposed that then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plead guilty to one felony fraud charge that had nothing to do with corruption in office and his wife would avoid charges altogether. The governor rejected the offer, the people with knowledge of the conversations said.

On Tuesday, Robert and Maureen McDonnell were jointly charged in a 14-count indictment alleging that they engaged in conspiracy and fraud, trading on his office to provide assistance to the businessman in exchange for more than $165,000 in luxury gifts and loans.

The failed behind-the-scenes plea discussions underscore the former governor’s strong assertion that prosecutors have stretched the law to ensnare a high-level official through the actions of his wife. He has emphatically insisted that he did nothing illegal in his interactions with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and made no agreements to assist his company, Star Scientific Inc.

It also provides a vivid illustration of the extent to which both of the McDonnells believe that it was the former first lady’s poor judgment in establishing a friendship with Williams that has landed the couple in legal peril.

Prosecutors had ignored an attempt to resolve the case with no charges for Gov. McDonnell, as Maureen McDonnell felt responsible for the relationship with Williams. Months later, as the trial began, defense attorneys revealed an evolved interpretation of that tie, claiming that the former first lady had a crush on Williams that developed in part because her husband was neglectful.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell shot an e-mail to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. the day an earthquake rattled Richmond in 2011. “I just felt the EARTH MOVE AND I WASN’T HAVING SEX!!!!”

The defense offered the e-mail in an effort to show that their relationship was not all business, as Williams has claimed, bolstering the defense that McDonnell had a crush on the entrepreneur. 

Williams said he did not recall seeing the e-mail but chuckled and said he thought it was funny.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

On one day in May 2011, Maureen McDonnell and businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. exchanged eight text messages between 1 and 8 a.m., according to phone records discussed at the trial. On one day in December of that year, they exchanged 52 texts and a call in just three hours, the records show.

All told, the records show, the two exchanged 1,200 texts or calls between April 2011 and February 2013. Asked if that surprised him, Williams testified Friday, “I was busy.”

“I was busy. Or she was busy texting, talking to me,” he said.

Defense attorneys have posited that the first lady had a crush on Williams, in part because her husband, then-Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, was neglectful, and they seemed to use the text and phone records Friday to prove an extensive personal relationship between the two.

Williams — who has denied that there was any romantic connection and said he had only a “business relationship” with the governor and his wife — pushed back against some of defense’s assertions. He said, for example, that the first lady “did not ever discuss her personal relationship with the governor with me.” And he denied — despite what the records show — that he had exchanged texts in the wee hours of the morning with her.

“I don’t do this, and I did not have these calls and texts in the middle of the night,” he said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney William Burck is now highlighting some of the inconsistencies in businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s memory, drawing out that his recollection of interactions with Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell from two years ago appears stronger than his memories of meetings with prosecutors just days ago.

For instance, Burck asked Williams about testimony from Thursday in which the former dietary supplement executive claimed that the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin called him in the summer of 2011 and told him that her mother had said Williams would buy her a car.

“That’s false, correct?” Burck asked. “That didn’t happen.” Williams insisted that it had. Burck asked, didn’t Cailin call and say her mother had suggested that she buy Williams’s Land Rover. But Williams insisted: Cailin McDonnell called and said she had an $18,000 or $20,000 Ford Explorer picked out at a dealership and her mother said Williams would buy it.

“This conversation occurred two years ago?” Burck queried.

“It happened in 2011. I remember her daughter calling me and asking me to buy a car. I was surprised,” he said.

“You remember a conversation that happened two years ago, but you don’t remember what happened on Sunday?” Burck asked, referring to earlier claims by Williams that he couldn’t remember details of his conversation with prosecutors just days ago.

Wiliams responded that there are some events that take on more importance in our lives than others.

Burck was incredulous. Williams was meeting with prosecutors on the eve of providing testimony in a corruption trial for the former governor of Virginia and he did not consider that an important moment in his life?

“They were asking me many questions,” Williams said of prosecutors. “The young woman asked me one.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

A testy moment in court just now as Maureen McDonnell’s attorney William Burck displayed for Jonnie R. Williams Sr. the note that the first lady wrote that she included when she returned to him dresses he had purchased in New York.

The box with the clothes and note arrived at Williams’s home in March 2013, two years after he had made the purchases and a few weeks after Maureen McDonnell was interviewed by law enforcement about the relationship. In the letter, Maureen McDonnell says she hopes Williams’s daughters might enjoy the dresses or that he might auction them to a charitable organization “as we discussed.”

Repeatedly, Burck tried to get Williams to say that the letter never actually says the two had a previous agreement that she would return the dresses, merely that the two had previously discussed charitable organizations. Williams grew heated: “I’m having trouble. I’m having trouble with what you’re doing with the letter.”

“You’re putting me in an a very awkward spot with your questions that are not true,” he said. Williams repeated what he said Thursday on the stand, that the letter was a “fabrication” because neither he nor Maureen McDonnell ever intended for the dresses to be returned.

That’s a key point for prosecutors because Maureen McDonnell has been charged with obstruction of justice because of the letter. They allege it was attempted to impede their investigation.

“These were not ever intended for my children,” Williams said of the dresses.

He went on to explain that one of his daughters is a schoolteacher who could not wear Oscar de la Renta, while the other is a fashion model.

“Either one of my children is a size zero,” he said. “These dresses were never intended to be given back to my daughters.”

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

The back and forth between Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Maureen McDonnell’s defense lawyer continues to grow sharper.

Attorney William Burck brought up Williams’s account that McDonnell had admired his Rolex and asked him to buy one for her husband. Burck noted Williams’s claim that her request had made him feel uncomfortable.

Burck then went on to recall how, the day before, Williams had testified about buying a $5,000 bottle of cognac in 2009 to share with a model friend, Brad Kroenig, and two associates of Robert F. McDonnell that he’d just met: Phil Cox, the head of McDonnell’s political action committee, and Adam Zubowsky, an aide who later married Jeanine McDonnell, one of the governor’s daughters.

“Remember the cognac?” Burck asked. “Were you uncomfortable then?

Williams said, “no,” because Kroenig had been there and he likes the liquor.

“If Brad had been there [when Maureen McDonnell asked for the watch], then you would have been fine?” Burck asked.

“That’s outrageous,” Williams replied.

Burck pressed on: If Williams had been comfortable throwing away $5,000 on a bottle of liquor because Kroenig was there, wouldn’t the model’s presence at the governor’s mansion that day have made the Rolex moment okay?

“I’m having a difficult time connecting a drink to a Rolex watch,” Williams said.

Burck shot back: “The drink cost $5,000.”

Load More
No More Posts