Former Gov. McDonnell says he knows he’s innocent

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told jurors Friday he was both innocent and contrite as he ended his third straight day of testifying in his public corruption trial.

Asked point blank by McDonnell’s defense attorney Henry Asbill whether he ever committed the crimes he’s been charged with, McDonnell said he had not.

“I know that in my heart,” McDonnell said.

Special Coverage: McDonnell Trial

McDonnell testified Friday about loans and gifts he received from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific Inc. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans from Williams in exchange for promoting his company’s products, particularly the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

When the fifth week of trial begins Monday, McDonnell will be questioned by one of his wife’s defense lawyers. Then the prosecuting U.S. attorneys will cross-examine the former governor, challenging much of what he’s said over the last three days.

McDonnell wrapped up Friday’s testimony answering a series of quick questions from Asbill:

Asbill:  Did you commit any crimes?

McDonnell:  No.

Asbill:  Do you blame Jonnie Williams?

McDonnell: Yes, in part.

Asbill:  Why?

McDonnell:  I thought he was a true friend, and then he made false statements in this court to save himself.

Asbill:  Do you blame your wife?

McDonnell:  No.

Asbill:  Who is to blame for your being in this court?

McDonnell:  I hold myself accountable. I got my life out of balance.

Asbill:  What do you think Jonnie Williams wanted from you?

McDonnell: I don’t know, he never told me.

Asbill:  Did you ever give Williams or Star Scientific anything in exchange for his gifts and loans?

McDonnell:  No absolutely not, never.

Asbill: Did you work with your wife to do so?

McDonnell: No.

Asbill: Did you intentionally attempt to mislead a bank or attempt to hid a corrupt relationship with Mr. Williams?

McDonnell: I did not.

While McDonnell testified he does not blame his wife for his legal troubles, the defense has attempted to isolate the former governor from the dealings between Maureen McDonnell — who was not legally a public official — and Williams.

On Thursday, McDonnell shared details about his marriage reminiscent of a soap opera. The ex-governor testified that he began working late to avoid going home and facing Maureen McDonnell’s rage. The defense introduced a letter in which McDonnell told his wife he was “at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more apparent.”

The former governor said he was unaware of many of the flashier gifts Williams had given to his wife.

On Friday, McDonnell testified about the gifts and loans he was aware of, saying there was nothing inappropriate in accepting them from a man who had asked only routine political courtesies and a call to his father on his 80th birthday.

“I liked the guy,” McDonnell said. “He was a Virginia businessman. I wanted him to succeed. I considered him a friend, he had not asked me for anything. I did not give him anything.”

However, the governor said he erred in not reporting two golf outings paid for by Williams and a golf bag emblazoned with the University of Notre Dame logo. The governor, who graduated from Notre Dame, was required to file a yearly disclosure with state government of his income, debts and gifts.

“Those probably should have been reported,” McDonnell said. “I take responsibility for that.”

The former governor said the omissions were not intentional and that he was not trying to keep Williams’ gifts hidden from the public. McDonnell did disclose another gift from Williams on those forms: the use of a vacation lake house.

McDonnell said he gave Williams no special treatment in exchange for the gifts and loans, only typical constituent service. For example, McDonnell said there was nothing unusual about a July 31, 2011, email request for Secretary of Health and Human Services Bill Hazel to send an aide to meet with Williams and Maureen McDonnell at the Executive Mansion the next day.

“This kind of email I would have sent many, many times,” McDonnell said.

The request came the same day McDonnell drove Williams’ Ferrari back to Richmond after vacationing at the businessman’s Smith Mountain Lake house.

McDonnell also testified about the night in February 2013 when he learned state police were asking about the couple’s relationship with Williams. He said police had interviewed his wife about the chef at the governor’s mansion for an investigation into missing food at the residence. McDonnell said he was “darn angry” to learn from his wife that they asked about stock she owned in Williams’ company, loans from Williams and the governor’s financial disclosure statement.

“She was very nervous,” McDonnell said. “She was very anxious when I talked to her that night.”

Williams, testifying under immunity, said earlier in the trial that he was not friends with the McDonnells and that he spent lavishly on them and their children solely to buy their influence as he sought state-backed research for Anatabloc.

The former governor disputed much of Williams’ testimony. McDonnell denied telling Williams that he owned Star Scientific stock. Williams also said that after a meeting about a possible stock loan, McDonnell had told him a handshake deal is not legally binding in Virginia. McDonnell denied saying that.

McDonnell also denied agreeing with Williams to keep a $50,000 loan between the two of them.

McDonnell said he had “misjudged” Williams, whom he had once considered a “true friend.”

“I had no idea he would come into federal court and make false statements about me,” McDonnell said.

After he left the Richmond courthouse Friday, McDonnell spoke to WAVY News’ Andy Fox one-on-one. He expressed gratitude specifically to the people of Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach, where he got his political start.

“I just want to thank them for the incredible love and support they’ve given me for 25 years, but particularly the last 18 days, as I’ve walked through this valley,” he said. “I really, really appreciate it.”

The former governor also explained the thoughts behind the emotion he showed while in court Friday.

“A lot of things, thinking about the last cabinet meeting, thinking about my time as governor, it was the honor of my life, and I’ll be ready to take the next chapter here soon,” he said.

 

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Associated Press writer Larry O’Dell contributed to this story.

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