Bob McDonnell navigates questions from prosecutors

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — At his public corruption trial Monday, Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell faced sharp questions from prosecutors about details of his personal finances.

As the trial entered its fifth week, prosecutors began their cross-examination of McDonnell. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry started with rapid fire questions: “You’re not denying that six minutes after you e-mailed Jonnie Williams to ask for money, you e-mailed Jasen Eige to say ‘please see me’ about Anatabloc studies at UVA and VCU?”

Bob and his wife, Maureen, are charged with providing special favors to a wealthy businessman, former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans while McDonnell was in office. McDonnell has maintained from the start that he gave Williams nothing, and that Williams didn’t ask for anything.

The pointed questions from prosecutors prompted long pauses and lengthy explanations from McDonnell, who was admonished by the judge to just “answer the question” when he tried to offer a detailed response of why he disagreed with a question that implied that a joint real-estate venture he owned with his sister was in financial trouble.

Special Coverage: McDonnell Trial

The money issues are key because prosecutors have said McDonnell’s financial desperation is what prompted him to accept cash and gifts from Williams. McDonnell says he considered Williams a friend and that he had been making steady progress in reducing his family’s debt even without Williams’ help.

Prosecutor Michael Dry asked McDonnell about a series of emails from staffers in which they speculated that Maureen McDonnell was drawn to Williams because “he’s loaded.” McDonnell, after initially demurring, said he didn’t believe his wife was drawn to Williams for his money.

“Money? That wasn’t the reason for friendship, no,” McDonnell said. But when asked whether his wife had a long history of making inappropriate financial requests of friends and family, McDonnell agreed.

The cross-examination began with McDonnell acknowledging that he knew Williams had loaned him and his wife $120,000 and provided numerous expensive gifts, including $15,000 to pay for catering at the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter, personal vacations in Cape Cod and Smith Mountain Lake, and golf outings.

He also admitted the golf trips should have been disclosed and were not.

During three days on the stand in direct examination, McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge about some of the gifts, saying he did not learn about them until after the fact or that they had been arranged by his wife.

For example, McDonnell said he did not know at the time that Williams spent $20,000 on designer clothing for Maureen McDonnell during a Manhattan shopping spree. Dry asked McDonnell if he was testifying that, despite his knowledge of his wife’s inappropriate financial requests and Williams’ lavish spending on other occasions, it never occurred to him that Williams might pick up the tab.

“That’s exactly what I’m testifying to, yes,” McDonnell said.

Dry also pressed McDonnell on his previous testimony that Williams started as a political donor but became a friend. Dry asked McDonnell, “how would you define a ‘personal friend’?” McDonnell began answering, “Well the law defines … ” Dry shot back: “That is not what I am asking, how do you define a ‘personal friend’?”

McDonnell gave a rambling answer, mentioning common interests, affinity and mutual respect before adding: “Most people understand what a friend is when they have one. It’s hard to put into words.”

The exchange led to Dry noting McDonnell’s “personal friend” once paid $23,000 to send McDonnell and his family to Kiawah Island. “How much did you pay for that trip,” Dry asked McDonnell. “I spent $1,500 along the way,” McDonnell answered. Dry would mock “along the way.”

Earlier Monday, McDonnell was questioned by his wife’s lawyer, and said Maureen McDonnell never asked him to do anything to help Williams’ business ventures.

Bob McDonnell also acknowledged that he had dealt with his wife’s angry outbursts for years and didn’t do enough to help staffers cope. Eventually, he said, Maureen McDonnell agreed to counseling and medication for a mental illness, details of which were not revealed.

He said he did not think his wife’s anger directed at him was warranted and called her grievances overblown.

“They were always about little things,” he testified.

He said his wife rejected marital counseling because she was afraid it would become public.

The state of the McDonnells’ marriage has been another big issue at trial; the defense has suggested they could not have conspired in a gifts-for-favors scheme because they were barely talking to each other.

But Dry introduced into evidence photos showing the McDonnells holding hands at three preliminary court appearances, along with records showing the couple took 18 vacations together, along with their children, over 22 months.

“Trips, not vacations,” McDonnell said, explaining that some of the excursions were to perform maintenance on the Virginia Beach rental properties he owns with his sister.

 

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