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Updates: Day seven of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 5, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell leaves the federal courthouse in Richmond with his lawyer, John L. Brownlee. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Alexa Welch Edlund)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell leaves the federal courthouse in Richmond with his lawyer, John L. Brownlee. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Alexa Welch Edlund)

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 Tuesday resumed 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 

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell’s trial wrapped up its seventh day on an unexpected note, when a juror spoke up.

“Your honor, I need to be excused,” she said, standing up and promptly shuffling out of the jury box and out the back door of the courtroom.

That happened about 5:15 p.m., about 15 minutes before court normally ends for the day. It came about 15 minutes into testimony from an FBI computer forensic examiner, Special Agent Tim Huff.

Huff was beginning to explain how he could determine whose computer was used to schedule certain events via the Outlook calendar system.

Court resumes Wednesday with Huff on the stand.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Jurors were given their first taste late Tuesday afternoon of a gift to Robert F. McDonnell from someone not named Jonnie R. Williams, Sr.

The gift was an expensive island vacation — a May 2012 getaway, which previous court filings indicate cost $23,000, to Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. It was paid for by Henrico hotelier and University of Virginia Board of Visitors Vice Rector William H. Goodwin Jr., previous court filings show.

On Tuesday, with McDonnell’s personal assistant on the witness stand for the prosecution, jurors saw the gift on a series of drafts of state-mandated economic disclosure forms that the governor was required to complete. McDonnell seems to have crossed the gift out on two drafts, writing on one “check to see if personal or reportable” and on another, simply, “personal.”

The gift did not appear on McDonnell’s final, filed disclosure form.

The gift is important in that it could demonstrate to jurors not only that McDonnell accepted other wealthy benefactors’ generosity, but also that he knew technical ways to keep from reporting it. Virginia law does not require elected officials disclose gifts from personal friends.

Prosecutors have said previously they want to use the trip as evidence that McDonnell knew that he need not report gifts from personal friends and used that justification to avoid reporting gifts from Williams.​ They have alleged Goodwin was not the governor’s personal friend.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

A former dentist who now writes financial articles for investors in his spare time testified Tuesday that he saw Maureen McDonnell offer up the governor’s mansion for Star Scientific to launch Anatabloc — an account that bolsters the one given by former Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams, Sr.

John Faessel, a freelance writer who lives in San Diego, said he saw the first lady of Virginia speak in person at a June 2011 event in Sarasota, Fla., for investors and scientists interested in Star and its latest supplement. He said the governor’s wife “said that the governor’s mansion would be offered to Star Scientific to launch a new product, which was to be Anatabloc.”

About 125 people attended the event, which was held at the Roskamp Institute, Faessel testified.

Faessel said that Maureen McDonnell was “exuberant about the science” surrounding Anatabloc and provided “almost comic relief” on a day filled with hours of technical lectures.

“Just the fact that there was a governor’s wife at the meeting was out of the blue,” he said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

The 2011 financial disclosure form Robert F. McDonnell submitted as governor included a mention of a $50,000 debt, but the governor’s counsel testified Tuesday that he never suspected it was a loan from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The debt was listed on the form under “individual creditors,” McDonnell lawyer and policy aide Jasen Eige said. Rather than identify Williams as the creditor, the governor put this instead: “Medical services.”

“At the time, I figured it as some kind of medical bill,” Eige testified. “Nothing indicates it’s from Jonnie Williams.”

Eige testified earlier that McDonnell was deeply involved in the preparation of his own financial disclosure form, which would be the subject of several meetings and go through various drafts and redrafts before it was finally submitted in January of each year to cover the previous year’s activity.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Jasen Eige, a former policy adviser and counsel to Robert F. McDonnell, testified Tuesday that he and another staffer to the governor went to great lengths to make sure an August 2011 event at the governor’s mansion would be a “lunch,” rather than a “launch” for Star Scientific’s tobacco-based dietary supplement.

“That was the primary reason I sat in on that lunch,” he said under questioning from William Burck, a defense attorney for Maureen McDonnell.

And Eige testified his efforts — at least as far as he knew — did not seem to upset first lady Maureen McDonnell. He said he did recall having any conversations with her before the event, as it was shaped so it would not be a product launch, nor did he recall her complaining afterward.

Eige testified earlier that staff to the governor also killed a plan to have a second Star Scientific event on mansion grounds on the same day as the lunch.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

As Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck questioned a former governor’s adviser, he seemed to want to drive home the point that Robert F. McDonnell was not required to report gifts to his wife on state-mandated economic disclosure gifts. The adviser, Jasen Eige, testified that that was true, unless gifts to the first lady were actually meant for the governor.

In one instance, in particular, Burck seemed skeptical that could be the case.

“Do you know if the governor enjoyed wearing women’s clothing?” Burck asked.

“I have no knowledge of that,” Eige responded.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·
Evidence boxes are wheeled into the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va.,  on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 as the federal corruption trial against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, continues.   (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP).

Evidence boxes are wheeled into the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 as the federal corruption trial against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, continues. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP).

Prosecutors have just concluded asking Robert F. McDonnell’s former counsel and policy adviser Jasen Eige about an incident that central to their case: An e-mail Eige received from the governor in February 2012 asking him to see the governor about “anatabloc issues at VCU and UVa.”

That e-mail is a key plank in the prosecution’s case that the governor himself apparently agreed to assist Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s company in exchange for money and gifts. McDonnell’s e-mail to Eige came six minutes after the governor e-mailed Williams to discuss specifics about a loan.

Eige testified that he had first received an e-mail on the same topic from Maureen McDonnell. On Feb. 9, 2012, the first lady e-mailed Eige that Williams was having trouble getting his phone calls returned at the two public universities, which he hoped would perform studies on his dietary supplement. The first lady wrote that her husband wanted to know why nothing had developed.

Eige said when he received the note, he was concerned: “It wasn’t our role, our to place, to get in the middle of something like this,” he said.

He said he wasn’t sure whether to believe the first lady when she indicated that the governor was also interested in the issue. He said he decided against calling the universities, as the first lady clearly wanted. “I was hoping it would go away,” he said.

Still, Eige said he decided to follow up in one way: He called Jerry Kilgore, the former Virginia attorney general whom he knew was representing Star Scientific. He asked Kilgore to “change the expectations of his client” and alert him to the fact that the governor’s office could not lean on the universities to move scientific studies ahead.

Then, Eige testified, he received the e-mail directly from the governor.

“I frankly thought the first lady was pushing on the governor to send this e-mail, to reach out to me,” Eige said.

He acknowledged, however, that he did not know that to be the case.

His e-mailed response in 2012: “Will do. We need to be careful with this issue.”

He also forwarded the governor’s note to McDonnell’s chief of staff, Martin Kent. “I wanted him to know it was still percolating,” he said.

Eige said he imagined he likely popped into the governor’s office the following day to explain why he did not think the governor’s office should be involved and to tell him he believed the issue was “taken care of” after his phone call with Kilgore. But he said he could not specifically recall having done so.

Then Harbach asked the kicker: Did Eige know at the time that the governor and Williams were in 2012 discussing ways Williams could loan the governor money?”

“No,” he said.

Did Eige know Williams ultimately loaned $70,000 that year to a small real estate company owned by the governor and his sister?

“No,” he said.

Did Eige know that the governor or his family owned Star Scientific stock at the time?

“No,” he said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell expressed concern to a top government lawyer in early 2012, when the governor was preparing to file a disclosure form for gifts given to him the previous year.

It was not the wedding catering, $3,000 in golf outings and loans that had the governor worried, since McDonnell did not list them on the form. McDonnell merely wondered how the presents he did disclose would stack up to those his predecessors received when they were in the governor’s mansion.

“How do these gifts compare with Warner/Kaine?” McDonnell asked his counsel, Jasen Eige, in a hand-written note on a draft disclosure form.

Eige testified Tuesday about helping McDonnell prepare his disclosure forms. He said he urged Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff early in the administration to keep track of any gifts given to the first lady that were really presents to the governor himself, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Eige, then-counsel to the governor, said he looked into whether the first lady needed to file the same financial disclosure form elected and senior government officials must turn in annually. He concluded that she did not. But he instructed the first lady’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, to “keep track of gifts that were really gifts to the governor.”

Eige also described Robert F. McDonnell as deeply involved in the preparation of his own financial disclosure form, which would be the subject of several meetings and go through various drafts and redrafts before it was finally submitted in January of each year to cover the previous year’s activity.

“He made extensive edits,” Eige said. “He’s meticulous.”

Although McDonnell worked with Eige and others on the preparation of the form, Eige said the governor had the last word on what was submitted.

Eige described researching the definition of “personal friend” in connection the Statement of Economic Interests form that the governor was preparing in early 2012, to cover 2011.

At the time, Virginia law allowed elected officials to accept gifts of any size so long as they disclosed those worth more than $50. The law did not require officials to list gifts to immediate family members. And the disclosure form instructs officials not to list gifts given by “relatives or personal friends for reasons clearly unrelated to your public position.”

When the gifts scandal first broke, McDonnell asserted that some of the gifts from Williams, such as $15,000 in wedding catering for his daughter, did not have to be disclosed because they were given to his relatives, not to him. The governor also asserted that Williams, whom he met shortly after winning the governor’s race in 2009, was a personal friend.

On the stand, Eige said he discussed the definition of “personal friend” came up with the governor whenever they prepared his disclosure form. Eige said the definition is not entirely clear.

“There’s not a lot of guidance on it,” he said. “There’s no bright-line determination.”

But Eige said generally, he would ask the governor to consider the context in which the gift was given and whether he knew the gift-giver before taking office.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell once asked an aide to her husband whether she could sit on the board for Star Scientific — the dietary supplement company she and former governor Robert F. McDonnell now stand accused of helping promote in exchange for bribes, the aide testified Tuesday.

Jasen Eige, the governor’s senior policy adviser, testified that the governor’s wife approached him sometime in 2012 and “started asking me some questions about whether she could serve on the board” for Star. Eige said he had some questions first. Would this be the actual corporate board, or a charitable foundation? And would she be getting paid?

He said Maureen McDonnell did not know. “She said I should talk to Jonnie Williams [Star's chief executive] about it,” Eige testified.

Eige testified that he was reluctant to initiate a call with Williams, but the executive soon phoned him. He said he asked Williams some of the same questions he had asked Maureen McDonnell and ultimately nixed the idea in part because of concerns over “bad publicity.”

“It doesn’t say in the law that you can’t do that, but those were some of my concerns,” Eige testified.

Eige said Williams “seemed to understand.”

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·
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."

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.”

In early 2012, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was telling staffers that the infamous Rolex was a Christmas present from his wife — and it was probably a fake, a former aide testified Tuesday.

The aide, former senior policy adviser Jasen Eige, testified that McDonnell made both assertions to him and Tucker Martin, the governor’s communications director, at a meeting in January 2012. He said Martin was the first to inquire about the flashy timepiece both men had just noticed, asking the governor, “Is that a Rolex?”

“He said, ‘Yeah it is. The first lady gave it to me for Christmas,’” Eige testified, relaying the governor’s response.

Eige testified that when Martin told his boss he would be wise not to wear it, the governor responded: “Well, I don’t even think it’s real.” Eige said he himself responded: “Well, that’s not any better, really.”

Eige’s account seems to support McDonnell’s previous public assertion that he — at least at some point — believed the Rolex to be a Christmas present from his wife, even though Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. was the watch’s true purchaser. But under questioning from prosecutor David Harbach, Eige acknowledged of the watch, “I didn’t really think that was something they probably could afford.”

Eige testified Tuesday that aside from noticing a photo of his boss wearing the watch in the Richmond Times Dispatch a day or so after the meeting, he never saw McDonnell sport the expensive timepiece again.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Jasen Eige, who served as lawyer and adviser to then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, says staff to the governor killed a plan to have a second Star Scientific event on the same day that Star held a luncheon for researchers at the governor’s mansion in August 2011.

Under questioning from prosecutor David Harbach, he said he and McDonnell’s chief of staff Martin Kent learned that Star wanted to first hold the lunch, where they would distribute grants to public university researchers, and then to hold a public event outside the mansion where they would announce the launch of Anatabloc, the company’s new dietary supplement.

“We didn’t think that was an appropriate use of state property or the mansion,” he said. So, he testified, he and Kent jointly placed a call to former attorney general Jerry Kilgore, whom the two knew to be acting as a consultant to Star chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and the company.

Eige said he and Kent decided, “Let’s see if we can stop it at the source,” he said. He said their goal was to get Kilgore to “change the expectations from Star.”

As a result, there was no public launch outdoors on mansion grounds. Still, on the evening before the lunch, Eige was forwarded a press release that had been put together by Star Scientific announcing the launch of Anatabloc. It included repeated references to the governor and first lady.

Tucker Martin, the governor’s communications director, quickly wrote back: “Are we sure we can do something like this?”

Eige testified that he was comfortable with a final version of the press release Star wrote after revisions. It noted that an event had been held at the governor’s mansion but did not specifically mention the governor or his wife, Maureen McDonnell. Still, he testified that he decided to attend the event to make sure it went off without a hitch.

He said he recalled the governor and first lady speaking at that mansion event and said he believed they spoke generally about the mansion and its history but did not remember their specific remarks.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Jasen Eige, counsel to Robert F. McDonnell when he was Virginia governor, said there is “no bright line” between a McDonnell’s general mission to promote Virginia business and his endorsement of a particular product.

“There’s no bright-line rule,” Eige said. “It’s kind of a sliding scale. … We obviously don’t want somebody to take the governor’s likeness and put it on a product and sell it on store shelves.”

Eige was testifying about an issue that arose in February 2011, when Star Scientific asked permission to tweet photos of the governor. McDonnell had attended a launch event for a Star product, CigRX, and the company wanted to use Twitter to circulate pictures of him at the event, with the CigRX logo in the background.

Eige said he did not have a problem with the request, given that the governor’s picture was often taken when he participates in ribbon cuttings or factory tours.

Prosecutor David Harbach asked Eige when he became aware that Williams had treated Maureen McDonnell to a $20,000 New York shopping spree in April 2011, and when he learned that Williams loaned the McDonnells money.

“After they became public last year,” Eige said.

That Eige was in the dark about those other favors from Williams could be significant, since he was deeply involved the first time the executive tried to extend a gift to them.

Eige was among the staffers who concluded in late 2009 that Maureen McDonnell could not accept an Oscar de la Renta gown from Williams for her husband’s inauguration. And after that, Eige was part of a team of staffers who tried to come  up with another way to pay for a dress, perhaps by using funds from the governor’s political action committee or transition committee. He said they looked into whether either entity could buy her a dress and then later give it to charity.

Asked about the first lady’s reaction to that idea, Eige said only that she was still stewing because she could not take Williams up on his offer.

“She was not happy about the Oscar de la Renta dress,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

After lunch on Tuesday, jurors got a window into just how upset first lady Maureen McDonnell was in 2009 after her husband’s staffers nixed the idea of Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. buying her an inauguration dress.

In an e-mail to veteran Robert F. McDonnell adviser and staffer Jasen Eige with the subject line, “CONFIDENTIAL!! I need to talk to you…”, Maureen McDonnell wrote that she needed “answers” — apparently about what she was now going to wear at her husband’s inauguration, and how she was going to get it.

“Bob is screaming about thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!!” Maureen McDonnell wrote to Eige. “I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done.”

Eige, a longtime McDonnell staffer who ultimately oversaw the governor’s policy office, McDonnell’s testified Tuesday that “this” referred to what the first lady was going to wear at her the inauguration, now that the dress from Williams had been blocked. He said the e-mail was the first indication he had that his boss and his boss’s wife were having any sort of financial difficulties. ​

Eige said he and the first lady eventually talked about the matter, although he could not recall the specifics of what was said.

“My impression was she wasn’t happy with us regarding the dress situation,” he said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

The key issue in today’s questioning of former staffers for Robert F. McDonnell is whether the former Virginia governor actually used his office to help businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

E-mails obtained  by The Washington Post last year through the Freedom of Information Act show that researchers and scientists working with Williams’s company, Star Scientific, thought that McDonnell and his wife wanted the company to receive the funding from the state’s tobacco commission. The researchers were in communication with Star officials during the same months that Williams said he believed McDonnell was helping, the e-mails show.

The tobacco commission operates independently, but during McDonnell’s administration three of his Cabinet members sat on its board, along with other citizen appointees of the governor and a number of Republican lawmakers.

A series of e-mails written in 2011 and 2012, included among hundreds of documents reviewed by The Post, show that Star hoped the tobacco commission would pay for scientists at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University to conduct clinical trials on anatabine, a chemical found in tobacco and other plants that is the key compound in Star’s new product — a nutritional supplement called Anatabloc.

Read the whole story.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Virginia Commonwealth University clinical research director John Clore was already thinking about doing research into the anti-inflammatory properties of anatabine, the active ingredient in Star Scientific’s Anatabloc supplement.

But he was caught off guard when the Star Scientific executive walked up to him at an Executive Mansion event and simply handed him a $25,000 check to get that research rolling.

“It’s never happened before in my life,” Clore testified Tuesday, explaining that he would normally submit an application for funding through VCU, and if his request is granted, the funds would go straight to the university, which would set up a special account that he could access.

Clore said he returned to VCU and turned the check over to the proper university official as “fast as possible.”

Clore also testified that Williams once called him, asking if he knew another doctor at the school who could help the governor with a specific medical condition. Clore confirmed that he gave Williams a name but declined to identify the medical condition.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

John Clore, clinical research director at Virginia Commonwealth University, has testified that a luncheon he attended at the governor’s mansion in August 2011 intended to mark the launch of Star Scientific’s product, Anatabloc, felt to him like an official government function.

That is a key point because prosecutors must prove that the Robert F. McDonnell agreed to take “official acts” in exchange for Star chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’ largesse if they are to win a conviction against the former governor or his wife, Maureen McDonnell.

Clore testified that he had never met either of the McDonnells or been to the governor’s mansion until he was invited to go to a meeting with the first lady there earlier in August. He said the two spoke in the first lady’s office generally about wellness in Virginia. Then he received the invitation to the Star Scientific event.

Clore was shown a printed invitation to that gathering. At the top, it read: “Governor Robert F. McDonnell and Maureen McDonnell request the pleasure of your company at a luncheon.” The invitation included the official state seal of Virginia.

“Did it seem to you that this was an official government event?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Faulconer.

“It did,” Clore testified, agreeing he had taken no leave from his state job to attend it.

Clore went to testify that on the day of the event the first lady greeted the approximately 20 guests. While the governor was not there as the event began, Clore said McDonnell arrived at some point and listened attentively as Williams described the history of anatabine, the tobacco-based compound found in Anatabloc. Then, he said, the governor himself spoke. He said he could remember little about those remarks other than that they had to do with Anatabloc and wellness in Virginia.

He said Williams indicated that Anatabloc was at that time hitting shelves of drug stores in the Richmond area. “Did you feel as though this event was designed to make a big splash?” Faulconer asked Clore.

Although he did not mention it, Faulconer was referencing a quote from Clore that appeared in a March 31 Washington Post story that first publicly revealed the relationship between the McDonnells and Williams.

“That’s what it seemed to me,” Clore said.

At the conclusion of the event, Clore said he was given a check for $25,000: a planning grant intended to begin work toward an Anatabloc study that he had been told would be funded by the Virginia tobacco commission.

“Did anyone tell you who was paying for the event?” Clore asked. “No,” Clore said.

“Did anyone tell you that the event wasn’t an official government event?” Faulconer continued.

“No,” Clore said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Taking the stand after the mid-morning break is Virginia Commonwealth University clinical research director John Clore, who prosecutors want to use to show that Robert F. McDonnell, himself, was involved in encouraging state-funded studies of Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s dietary supplement.

Clore testified that after another doctor called to tell him about Williams and the supplement, Anatabloc, he e-mailed his superiors to tell them there might be a research opportunity there.

In the e-mail, he wrote Williams was a “very good friend” of Robert F. McDonnell and, “The governor would like to sponsor these trials as evidence of Virginia’s commitment to research and entrepreneurship.”

He seems to have been referring to trials of Anatabloc.

Clore testified that he later attended a Star Scientific event at Gibson Island, Md., to learn more about the supplement and research of it, and he was again left with the impression the governor wanted Anatabloc studied, possibly at state expense. He said Williams’s company had offered $25,000 to people who might want to prepare grant applications, and the ultimate funding for studies, he believed, would come from the Virginia tobacco commission.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Stephen Michael Hauss, a defense attorney for Maureen McDonnell, suggested that the first lady’s chief of staff engineered an August 2011 meeting between a top state health official and Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Prosecutors have previously introduced an e-mail into evidence that shows then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell directing Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Hazel to send a deputy to meet with the Star executive the next morning. The governor sent the message about midnight, after returning in Williams’s Ferrari from a stay at his Smith Mountain Lake home.

But Hauss noted that it was chief of staff Mary-Shea Sutherland who met Hazel’s deputy at the mansion door and showed her to the meeting room. Hauss asked of Sutherland sat in on the meeting. Molly Huffstetler, the deputy, could not remember.

Huffstetler said in e-mails to colleagues before the meeting that she had no intention to commit to anything at her meeting with the Star executive they derisively referred to as “tic tac man.”

But, she added, “We will do what we can to carry out the desires of the Governor and the first lady.”

Hauss questioned how she purported to know the first lady’s “desires” if she had never spoken with Maureen McDonnell about Anatabloc before or after the meeting. During the meeting itself, Huffstetler said, Maureen McDonnell was attentive but mostly silent.

“You had no idea what Mrs. McDonnell’s desires were,” Hauss said.

When Hauss finished with his cross examination, prosecutor David Harbach tried to drive home the point that the McDonnells made a top health official grant an audience to the “tic tac man.”

When Huffstetler got the request, Harbach asked, why didn’t she say, “I’m not meeting with this guy. He’s a nut.”

“I wouldn’t have considered that an option,” Huffstetler said, explaining that she had to take a meeting if the governor asked for it.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Robert F. McDonnell defense attorney Henry “Hank” Asbill has just completed cross-examining former health department official Molly Huffstetler, attempting to minimize the Aug. 1, 2011, meeting she attended with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Maureen McDonnell and suggesting Williams may have been dishonest during the session.

Repeatedly, he asked her whether it was a routine occurrence during her time in state government that she would be asked by Health Secretary Bill Hazel to take meetings with people pitching ideas. “I would say often,” she said. “It was a function of the office.”

She said she did not feel any pressure to take any action as a result of the meeting and, in fact, she was never aware of any work that was done by the health office to move Williams’s project forward. When she wrote in an e-mail before attending the meeting that she planned to tell Williams that she would work to accomplish the desires of the governor, she agreed with Asbill that she understood the governor’s wishes to be simply that she attend the meeting.

And she agreed with Asbill’s characterization of the note she wrote to Williams following the meeting — one in which she urged him to pursue studies to confirm his glowing anecdotes about Anatabloc — as a “blow-off” e-mail.

“No, with a smile?” Asbill said, recalling the words of McDonnell’s scheduler Monica Block, who testified Monday that the governor urged to his staff to take that approach with supplicants.

“Yes,” she said, indicating that she had consulted with no one before sending the e-mail and that she felt empowered at the time to send it without further direction.

Asbill also called Huffstetler’s attention to a note she had taken during the meeting, in which she wrote that the “tobacco fund in VA is paying for studies — by request of Gov.”

She testified that she did not remember the specifics of her conversation with Williams on that point but that she considers herself a good note taker and believed that the note indicated that Williams told her tobacco commission-funded studies were then underway. That would not have been true. At the time, Williams was discussing seeking tobacco commission grant funding but an application was never submitted and the commission never provided dollars.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

A state health official in the McDonnell administration testified Tuesday that if the governor had not asked for it, she would not have met with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. so the businessman could pitch his dietary supplement.

Molly Huffstetler, the official, seemed to view Williams as somewhat of a comical figure, referring to him as “tic tac man” in lighthearted e-mails with colleagues and saying she planned to “commit to nothing” during a meeting with him and Maureen McDonnell, the governor’s wife, on Aug. 1, 2011.

But at the same time, Huffstetler treated the hour-long meeting seriously. She took detailed notes, which jurors saw on a screen Tuesday. One of them seemed to reflect that Williams told her the governor was involved in seeking funding for studies of his product, Anatabloc.

“Tobacco fund in Va. is paying for this — by request of Gov.,” the note said.

Huffstetler said she could not recall the meaning of that note or of most of the others she took. But the meeting was not completely unremarkable. Huffstetler testified it was the only one she ever had with the first lady, and the only one she ever had in the executive mansion.

After the meeting, Huffstetler sent Williams a thank you note saying, “At times I found myself drifting to excitement thinking about my father,” who suffered from a severe form of arthritis. She wrote, “It thrills me to think that within his lifetime there is a possible method to alleviating the significant pain without costly side effects.”

Huffstetler testified Tuesday Williams’s anecdotes genuinely led her mind to wander to her father. But the note, she said, was mostly just her being polite. Neither the governor nor the state health secretary followed up with her, she said.

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