Va. Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell Takes Stand in Corruption Trial

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    NEWSLETTERS

    On the third day for the defense, former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell took the stand for his first few hours of testimony in his federal corruption trial. (Published Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014)

    Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took the stand in his corruption trial for about two hours Wednesday afternoon.

    Most of his testimony entailed establishing basic facts about his time in office, but it also briefly touched on his dealings with Star Scientific Inc. and his wife's reaction to becoming Virginia's first lady.

    McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are accused of accepting about $177,000 in gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams while he was CEO of Star Scientific Inc., a dietary supplement maker.

    Defense attorneys asked Bob McDonnell if he had done anything unusual for Williams' company.

    Former Gov. Bob McDonnell Takes Stand in Corruption Trial

    [DC] Former Gov. Bob McDonnell Takes Stand in Corruption Trial
    News4's Julie Carey reported from Richmond that former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell had testified in the corruption trial of he and his wife Maureen. (Published Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014)

    "My administration did nothing for them other than give them access to government," McDonnell said.

    Regarding Williams' presence at events at the governor's mansion, McDonnell said his administration was excited about the 200th anniversary of the mansion and wanted to host as many meetings and events at possible to show it off to as many people as possible.

    McDonnell said his administration did advocate for Virginia businesses when it was in the best interest of the state. As governor he had control of a discretionary fund he used as he saw fit and he could add line items in the state budget to benefit businesses and let the General Assembly decide.

    McDonnell spoke of the fine line elected officials walk regarding taking gifts and donations from people.

    Ex-Va. Gov. McDonnell Takes the Stand

    [DC] Ex-Va. Gov. McDonnell Takes the Stand
    Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell took the stand in his federal corruption trial Wednesday afternoon. (Published Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014)

    "If you can't take someone's money one day and vote against their interests the next day, you don't belong in this business," McDonnell said.

    He also testified that his wife did not seem happy when he was elected governor of Virginia. He said the morning after he was elected in 2009, Maureen McDonnell seemed upset.

    "She was yelling at me about something. It clearly exhibited some stress of what lay ahead for her in her new role as first lady," Bob McDonnell testified.

    His first hour of testimony largely covered his biography – how he was raised, his education and his path to politics. McDonnell testified about the time spent campaigning and the stress it caused himself and his family, despite their support.

    McDonnell said he decided to launch his run for attorney general in 2002, attending his first event in February, about three-and-a-half years before the primary, because of the size of the state.

    “From Virginia Beach to the tip of the Cumberland Gap is 11 hours,” he said. “I know. I drove back one night to see my boys before they went to Boy Scout camp.”

    Campaigning put a strain on his marriage and he missed things like soccer games, McDonnell said.

    “This was the calling of my life,” he said.

    And his wife came from a family involved with public service, so she was supportive of his career, he testified.

    The abbreviation of attorney general, AG, is often used for “aspiring governor,” defense attorney Henry Asbill said. McDonnell said that was true for him.

    And as he campaigned for governor -- stepping down as attorney general in 2009 because that needs to be a full-time job, he said – he worked “as long as you could go.”

    “There was always one more event you could attend, one more voter you could talk to,” he said.

    McDonnell is expected to return to the stand Thursday, possibly all day, when he will answer questions about his marriage. He may also take the stand Friday.

    A couple of character witnesses were called after the lunch break, including Father Timothy Scully, a Notre Dame political science professor who has been a friend of Bob McDonnell since they roomed together for four years at Notre Dame beginning in 1972.

    “He is a person of great moral character and strength of character,” Scully said.

    He described McDonnell as a man of integrity and honesty. "He embodies virtue," said Scully.

    “Bob has never erred from the truth,” he said.

    He testified to his absolute belief that the McDonnells love each other.

    Asked if he was aware of any problems in their marriage, Scully said, “I would only be able to surmise that from my personal observations because Bob would never say one unkind thing about anyone, especially his wife. … One could see mercurial times in their relationship, so I would worry about that and pray for them.”

    Asked if their friendship had anything to do with ideology, Scully said, “No. I grew up in Cook County [Illinois]. There are no Republicans in Cook County."

    Also Wednesday, a forensic accountant hired by the defense testified that the McDonnells were on sound financial footing when they accepted the gifts.

    J. Allen Kosowsky was paid about $80,000 to analyze the finances of the McDonnells and the real estate company that the governor owned with his sister.

    The defense expert presented charts that showed the McDonnells' heavy credit card debt was declining, and that the family could have accessed other cash if needed.

    The testimony is intended to counter the government's claims that the former first couple and a real estate partnership between Bob McDonnell and his sister were struggling financially.

    Prosecutors allege that financial desperation led the former first couple of Virginia to accept the money from then-CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for helping his company, Star Scientific.

    During cross examination of Kosowsky, the government attempted to show how financially strapped the McDonnells would have been without loans from Williams.

    Prosecutors say the McDonnells' financial desperation helped drive them to accept tens of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts and loans from Williams, then the CEO of Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for using their office to promote his company's dietary supplements.

    On Wednesday, the prosecution cut away at some of the McDonnells' assets that Kosowsky used in his calculations.

    Prosecutor Ryan Faulconer illustrated how a $50,000 loan from Williams to the McDonnells was used to pay off credit debt and how the McDonnells transferred debt from credit accounts to avoid higher interest rates.

    Prosecutors showed that the main reason the McDonnells' credit picture improved was because of the $120,000 in loans from Williams.

    Faulconer attacked a Kosowsky chart showing more than $67,000 in cash available to the McDonnells and MoBo Realty -- the company the governor owned with his sister -- in March 2012, noting that $50,000 loan in May 2011 and a $15,000 wedding gift from Williams to the McDonnells’ daughter.

    Faulconer also attacked the use of available credit as a factor in financial strength. Kosowsky defined "liquid" as readily available, but Faulconer questioned the inclusion of the ability to create credit debt as an asset.

    Regarding retirement accounts Kosowsky used in his calculations, Faulconer noted the taxes and penalties incurred when drawing from those accounts.

    Workplace consultant James Burke also took the stand Wednesday.

    Burke, director of Virginia Commonwealth University's performance and management group, testified to the struggles of the staff at the governor’s mansion. He was asked to help with the staff in early October 2011.

    Burke, who said he was very fond of Maureen McDonnell, testified that he suggested to Bob McDonnell that the first lady receive counseling and that she possibly moved to another residence.

    Burke also said he discouraged the staff from taking their problems with the first lady to the governor, and he opposed a letter from the staff threatening to resign en masse.

    In the letter addressed to Maureen McDonnell, a group of staffers wrote in part, "Each of us at one time of another has received a screaming phone call or nasty email, during work, in the evening, on the weekends and on holidays so that we now worry 24/7 about when to expect it.... It is the worst kind of bullying...."

    Another member of Bob McDonnell's former cabinet testified next.

    Todd Haymore, secretary of agriculture and forestry (two of Virginia’s largest industries), offered similar testimony to that of three cabinet members who testified Monday.

    Development and global marketing of agriculture and forestry were not part of the economic plan prior to the McDonnell administration. Grants are offered through a development fund for those industries, and Haymore testified McDonnell never asked him to do anything for Star Scientific or Jonnie Williams.

    Daniel Cook, a CPA who has done taxes for the McDonnells and MoBo Realty, testified that the 2012 loans of $50,000 and $20,000 from Williams' Starwood Trust to MoBo were never concealed to him.

    The prosecution asked if the name Jonnie Williams ever came up in connection with those loans, and Cook responded that it hadn't.

    Bob McDonnell's Sister: "Absolutely" She Would Have Given Him Financial Help

    On Tuesday, Bob McDonnell's sister, Maureen C. McDonnell, testified that she could have helped her brother or erased MoBo's red ink at any time.

    A defense attorney asked, "If he [Bob McDonnell] needed money, did he know he could come to you?"

    "Absolutely he did," she said.

    But on cross examination, prosecutors challenged her claim, asking if that were true, why did MoBo rack up so many bank late fees and even get the water cut off at the beach houses for failure to pay bills.

    Maureen C. McDonnell blamed the man who had handled the MoBo finances for years, her ex-husband Michael Uncapher. She further explained she had fallen ill after the birth of her daughter, and her husband was tasked with taking care of the whole family.

    She also testified that loans from Williams were not the only option, just the first, and when she paid them back in summer 2013, she simply made a withdrawal from a 401K and sold some stock.

    Maureen C. McDonnell also testified about the former first couple's relationship.

    She testified that sometimes it seemed like the couple barely communicated. But she also recalled a phone call with her brother in which she could hear the first lady yelling at the governor in background.

    "I saw the strain on their relationship after he became governor," she said.

    The defense contends the state of the McDonnells' marriage is one reason they couldn't have criminally conspired to get gifts and loans from businessman Williams.