Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, center, arrives at federal court with his daughter Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, left, and son Bobby McDonnell, right, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, in Richmond, Va. Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday in the McDonnell's corruption case. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
5 things to know about former Va. governor trial
- Article by: LARRY O'DELL
- Associated Press
- August 31, 2014 - 5:33 PM
RICHMOND, Va. — Jurors will begin deliberations Tuesday in the public corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, who could face decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines if convicted.
They are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory, Anatabloc.
The jury heard from dozens of witnesses over five weeks and viewed a mountain of exhibits culled from the 3.5 million pages of documents collected by authorities. Bob McDonnell testified in his own defense. His wife did not testify. Williams testified under immunity as the government's star witness.
As the case heads to the jury, here are five things to know:
1. A CREDIBILITY CONTEST?
McDonnell's lawyers argued in court papers before the trial that the case is essentially a credibility contest.
McDonnell is a former Army officer, prosecutor, state legislator, attorney general and governor. He testified that he provided nothing more than routine political courtesies to Williams.
Williams is a gregarious, free-spending pitchman with a spotty business record. One prosecution witness described him as "a bit of a snake-oil salesman." He testified that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells only to secure their help.
One factor that could affect Williams' credibility is his unusually generous immunity agreement. The deal bars his prosecution not only for his dealings with McDonnell, but also for possible securities violations that were the subject of a separate grand jury investigation. College of William & Mary law professor Jeffrey Bellin said it's a weakness in the prosecution's case because it enabled the defense to argue that Williams said what he thought prosecutors wanted to hear just to save his own hide.
But prosecutors have overcome that hurdle before. In the 2011 bribery and extortion trial of former state Del. Phillip Hamilton, a key witness who was granted immunity admitted lying to legislative ethics investigators and two grand juries. Hamilton was convicted and sentenced to 9½ years in prison.
1. WHAT THE McDONNELLS GOT
It's a long list. The big-ticket items are three loans totaling $120,000. One $50,000 loan went to Maureen McDonnell, the rest to a struggling real estate venture owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister.
The most eye-popping goods were the $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories Williams bought for Maureen McDonnell on a Manhattan shopping spree and a $6,500 Rolex watch for Bob McDonnell, paid for by Williams but given as a Christmas present by the first lady. Jurors examined the watch and viewed the apparel during a sort of courtroom show-and-tell as the government wrapped up its case.
McDonnell acknowledged that he never offered to pay for any of the $3,200 tab he rang up on Williams' account at an exclusive golf club. His twin sons ignored his entreaties to return golf equipment they received from Williams, yet McDonnell kept a golf bag featuring the logo of his alma mater, Notre Dame.
There also was a $15,000 check to cover one daughter's wedding reception expenses and a $10,000 housewarming gift for another daughter
1. WHAT WILLIAMS GOT
It's a shorter list. The biggest favor was a luncheon at the governor's mansion that prosecutors described as a product launch event.
Defense attorneys tried to show that it was Maureen McDonnell's top aide who orchestrated the event while she was covertly negotiating for a job with Williams. However, Williams testified that Maureen McDonnell surprised him by announcing at a previous event that the mansion would host the product launch. Bob McDonnell arrived late for the mansion luncheon and gave brief remarks.
Maureen McDonnell appeared at several other Star Scientific events, speaking at some. And Bob McDonnell arranged one meeting for Williams with the state's top health official and had another, lower-level official sit in on a separate briefing.
1. PORTRAIT OF AN UNHAPPY FIRST LADY
Maureen McDonnell sat expressionless at the defense table as a parade of witnesses — many of them her former assistants — described her as petulant, suspicious, secretive and prone to angry outbursts.
One acknowledged telling investigators her old boss was "a nutbag." In one of the trial's many bizarre moments, Bob McDonnell hugged that witness during a break immediately after she had trashed his wife.
The former governor himself later testified in detail about his wife's anger issues and behind-his-back scheming.
1. THE BROKEN MARRIAGE DEFENSE
Bob McDonnell testified that his marriage deteriorated as he climbed the political ladder. He started working late to avoid going home to face his wife's rage, he testified, and the two are living apart during the trial.
Maureen McDonnell's attorney said his client developed a "crush" on Williams. A witness described interaction between the two as "flirty," and Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky said her mother had a "mild obsession" with Williams. Bob McDonnell said he was hurt when he learned that his wife and Williams had exchanged more than 1,200 phone calls and text messages. Nobody thought the relationship was physical — just emotional.
The defense theory is that the marriage was so strained the McDonnells could not have conspired.
"He's willing to throw her under the bus and she's willing to let him to avoid criminal convictions," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry said in closing arguments.
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