RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Gov. Bob McDonnell wrapped up a grueling four-plus days on the witness stand Tuesday by emphatically denying that he did special favors for a wealthy businessman in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans.
McDonnell acknowledged using poor judgment and said he now regrets accepting the largesse from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, who was seeking state-backed research for his company’s tobacco-derived dietary supplement, Anatabloc.
But asked by defense attorney Henry Asbill if he risked his future and his family’s by committing the crimes alleged in a 14-count indictment, McDonnell firmly responded: “No.”
McDonnell acknowledged that political donors usually want something, but in Williams’ case he wasn’t sure what it was.
“He never told me about something specifically he wanted,” McDonnell said.
Earlier in the afternoon, prosecutor Michael Dry wrapped up a painstakingly detailed cross-examination of McDonnell with a theatrical flourish. He showed a copy of McDonnell’s 2010 inaugural address and zeroed in on this line: “The Scriptures say, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required.‘”
Dry asked McDonnell whether Williams gave him and his family thousands in gifts and loans.
The former governor said yes.
Asbill followed up by asking if Williams required anything for what he did for the McDonnells.
“Absolutely not,” McDonnell said.
According to prosecutors, the “official acts” performed for Williams included a product launch event at the governor’s mansion, promotion of his product at various events and arranging a meeting with the state’s top health official. Meanwhile, Williams lavished the couple with designer apparel, free vacations, golf outings and loans totaling $120,000.
Dry asked McDonnell about a series of emails and notes in February 2012 in which McDonnell was trying to finalize a $50,000 loan. In one sequence, jurors saw emails six minutes apart. McDonnell asked Williams about documents to finalize the loan, and then told his staffer to “see me about anatabloc issues” at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia — the institutions being courted for research.
McDonnell responded forcefully when questioned about the emails.
“We don’t make decisions based on money. No sir,” McDonnell said.
He said his email to his staffer and lawyer, Jasen Eige, was “to ask him to get a phone call returned, which I’ve done thousands of times. It’s basic constituent service.”
Jurors also saw an email that Maureen McDonnell sent to Eige earlier that month in which she wrote “Gov wants to know why nothing has developed w/ studies.”
Under the timeline developed by prosecutors, Maureen McDonnell sent the email while she and the governor were riding in a car together to a political event.
Bob McDonnell said he was not pressing for information on the studies, and he didn’t know why his wife said as much in an email. Dry responded with incredulity.
“Your wife was misleading one of your most trusted advisers?” Dry said.
“I don’t know. I’m saying that is not true,” McDonnell said.
Dry also questioned McDonnell about the use of loans from Williams and others to cover annual shortfalls of $40,000 to $60,000 at two Virginia Beach vacation rental homes the former governor owns with his sister. McDonnell rejected Dry’s suggestion that those losses were not sustainable, saying the goal was to build equity over the long haul.
During two days of cross-examination, Dry did not question McDonnell in depth about the state of his marriage. McDonnell offered testimony on direct examination aimed at bolstering a defense theory that the marriage was so broken that they could not have engaged in a complex conspiracy. The prosecution offered evidence of the McDonnells taking 18 trips together in 2011 and 2012 and holding hands at preliminary court appearances earlier this year.
Under questioning from his own lawyers, McDonnell had testified about his wife’s angry outbursts and his attempts in recent years to avoid her. Asbill had one final question on the topic before McDonnell stepped down from the stand Tuesday.
“Did you feel you had to answer these questions to defend yourself in this trial?” Asbill asked.
McDonnell said yes.