RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took the stand in his defense in his public corruption trial Wednesday.
On the stand, McDonnell gave an inside glimpse into his fundraising efforts. McDonnell says he raised more than $58 million between 2005 and 2013 from the time he ran and became State Attorney General and then Governor. He was asked what those donors get? “If you take money from someone and can’t vote against their issue then you don’t belong in the business….my rule of thumb is every contributor wants something…they want good government, they are republicans or democrats and they want to support the team, they are in an industry, and you are on the right side of their issue.”
He then gave two examples of well known people from Hampton Roads that contributed, and did not get what they wanted. McDonnell says Oceanfront Developer Bruce Thompson wanted to be on the UVA Board, and McDonnell told him ‘no.’ McDonnell also noted he did not support Thompson’s issue of demanding all schools begin after Labor Day due to the summer season work force. McDonnell said, “I think local school systems should have the option to begin when they want.”
A second example involved Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms who wanted to be on the ODU Board. Sessoms also testified in the trial about loans and whether the Jonnie Williams’ loans of $120,000 should have been reported on McDonnell’s personal financial disclosure forms. Sessoms is also McDonnell’s close friend. “I had to tell Will ‘no’ because I don’t think Mayors should be on those boards,” McDonnell explained.
On whether Jonnie Williams or Star Scientific got any preferential treatment McDonnell said, “No. They never got any economic funds through the Virginia Opportunity Fund…they got very little except regular routine access to government…I never did any press releases for them..I never had any site visits…I never stopped by Star Scientific on my listening tours. They never got a line item for funds in the budget.”
As he left court McDonnell said, “I am glad to finally be there. I have a long way to go (On the stand) maybe a day, two days, but I’m glad to tell my story, finally.”
WAVY News 10’s Andy Fox asked him if his beloved father were here what would he tell his son, “He would tell me to be honest.”
On his wife McDonnell said, “Of course talking about marriage and finances are hard for anybody.” He and his wife, Maureen, are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting the dietary supplements-maker’s products.. But he did talk about his wife on the stand. He said during his testimony that he got a feeling right after his election that Maureen had reservations about being first lady. “The day after the election, I woke up early and took a shower and I talked to my wife and I could tell she was not as happy as I was. She had worked so hard. I could sense from her the tension on her impeding role as first lady. She was yelling at me about what was ahead for her in her role as first lady. What was she going to wear? I need to take some calls, but I told her I’d talk to her later.”
McDonnell walked out of court with two of his best friends. One of them was high school classmate Joseph Damico. The other was Father Timothy Scully who was college roommates with McDonnell at Notre Dame. Both testified today as character witnesses. McDonnell said, “These are two of my longest standing best friends in the world. They did a great job and it gave me a lot more encouragement going on the stand. These are great men who know me better than anybody in the world.”
Father Scully then said, “I simply told the truth, Bob McDonnell is one of the kindest and most honest people of integrity that I ever met in my life.”
On the stand Father Scully described McDonnell as ‘truthful’ and ‘honest’ and ‘a man of character.” The Government’s attorney then asked Father Scully, “Would you agree truthfulness, honesty, a man of character is the ability to remove oneself from immoral situations?” That cut to the core of the Government’s case against McDonnell that he was not any of those characteristics in the Jonnie Williams case.
Fox asked McDonnell about that as he was leaving court, “And yet the U.S. Attorney brought that back. If that’s all true then how did you get yourself in this position?
Of these characteristics your friends who came here, and said all these nice things
about you. How did you get yourself into this position?” McDonnell answered, “Well, we got a couple of more days to talk about that.”
McDonnell said he will be on the stand a couple of more days, and Thursday will be a tough one when he is forced to talk about his marriage and how he says it was failing.