Richmond, Va. – A broken marriage, inappropriate relationship and manipulation by a wealthy businessman make up just a small part of the defense in the McDonnell corruption trial in Richmond.
Former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of accepting loans and gifts from the CEO of a dietary supplement company for a specific purpose – helping him promote his product.
Star Scientific’s Johnnie Williams wrapped up his testimony Monday after four days on the stand.
While he told prosecutors the Former Governor and First Lady knew exactly what they were doing, the defense argued otherwise. Both defense teams tried to undermine his credibility by pressing Williams about his deal with the government.
Under an immunity agreement with prosecutors, Williams is protected from prosecution for his role in this case as well as potential securities fraud and violations related to Starwood Trust and other trusts during a three year period.
“I’m operating under the belief that I’m telling the truth,” Williams told the court Monday.
But, the defense questioned, who decides the truth? The government?
The defense, instead, grilled Williams on the FBI investigation and how his story has changed since first interviewing with officials. They’re also trying to prove Williams was just a generous friend to the McDonnells.
The Former Governor’s lawyer pressed Williams hard about Maureen’s requests and whether he was 100 percent certain that Mr. McDonnell knew about all of them.
In regards to the $20,000 shopping spree in New York: “Do you know from personal knowledge whether he [Bob McDonnell] knew about it?” Williams said, “No”.
Williams also admitted that the Former Governor didn’t know about a flight some of the McDonnell children took on his personal jet.
During opening statements, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer even argued she had a crush on Williams which allowed him to manipulate her to get what he wanted. The Former Governor’s attorney backed up that argument by saying Williams ‘poisoned’ an already ‘broken marriage.’
Mrs. McDonnell’s lawyer attempted to make a bold statement about her so-called ‘inappropriate’ relationship with Williams last week.
Brought into evidence was an email the Former First Lady wrote to Williams on the day of the 2011 Virginia Earthquake, “I just felt the earth move and I wasn’t having sex.”
At the time it was presented, Williams laughed aloud in the courtroom, but said he didn’t remember receiving it.
During redirect, Williams told prosecutors he didn’t know Mrs. McDonnell had any interest in him before the start of the trial.
Since Williams left the stand, the prosecution has called several former staff members of Bob McDonnell, as well as doctors who were asked to plan and conduct clinical trials on Anatabloc.
Through their testimony, prosecutors hope to prove Mr. McDonnell also played a big role in helping Williams.
His former Political Advisor, Phil Cox, said Williams raised some red flags for him and he urged Mr. McDonnell to be careful.
In an email response to a request that the Governor tweet about Williams’ product, Cox wrote, “The governor should not be tweeting about a product launch.”
The Former Governor’s Counselor, Jason Eige, also told prosecutors he urged Mr. McDonnell to be careful.
He said he didn’t think it was appropriate for the governor’s office to get involved with trying to move the Anatabloc studies along at UVA and VCU.
Eige says when he and another staffer saw the Rolex on the governor’s wrist they told him he probably shouldn’t be wearing it.
Defense lawyers have made it clear that no state money has ever gone to Williams or Star Scientific.
But, Dr. John Clore, Vice President for VCU Clinical Research, says it was his understanding that “the governor would like to use tobacco funds to support Virginia research…” He wrote that in an email to colleagues following a meeting about Anatabloc at the Ross Camp Institute.
Dr. Clore says VCU Medical Center was given a $25,000 check for the initial planning stages at the Executive Mansion the day of the product launch party.
Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell’s defense teams pushed back while cross examining these witnesses.
Eige told them the governor only needs to report gifts given to him or meant for him.
He says there isn’t any legal restriction on the First Lady receiving clothing from a friend.
Eige also told the defense his concern about Williams buying Maureen a dress for the inauguration was a public relations one.
Since Mrs. McDonnell didn’t hold a public office position, defense attorneys have said it wasn’t illegal for her to accept gifts and help Williams. That’s why prosecutors are trying to make the case that the Former Governor was also involved.