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Ex-gov. claims he isn’t guilty

Sunday, August 24, 2014

RICHMOND (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will be back on the witness stand in his corruption trial Monday, facing questions from one of his wife’s lawyers before prosecutors cross-examine him.

It will mark the fifth week of his corruption trial.

McDonnell told jurors Friday he was both innocent and contrite as he ended his third straight day of testifying.

Asked point blank by 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.

But he also said he holds himself accountable for the decisions that landed him court. McDonnell and his supporters have long said that he may have used bad judgment but did not break any laws.

“I got my life out of balance,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell testified Friday about loans and gifts he received from Jonnie Williams, then 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 exchange for promoting his company’s products, particularly the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

McDonnell testified that he does not blame his wife for his legal troubles. However, 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 accepting them from a man who had asked only routine political courtesies and a call to his father on his 80th birthday.

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 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.

The marital discord is a key element of the defense as the McDonnells fight charges that they performed “official acts” to benefit Williams.

Maureen McDonnell’s associates have portrayed her as petulant, suspicious, secretive, manipulative, accusatory and prone to angry outbursts. It’s a character portrait that could bolster the notion that Maureen schemed behind her husband’s back to solicit most of the gifts and loans, and engender sympathy for the former governor.

But it also could backfire, said College of William & Mary law professor Adam Gershowitz, who specializes in criminal procedure and evidence.

“It’s a strategy that’s fraught with danger,” he said. “Normally doing something unchivalrous like throwing your wife under the bus doesn’t play very well with regular people, which is what you have with a jury.”

Nevertheless, the former governor could beat at least some of the charges in the 14-count indictment if he is convincing enough, Gershowitz said.


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