News Column

McDonnell: I saw nothing inappropriate in Williams loans

August 22, 2014

By Bill Sizemore, The Virginian-Pilot

Aug. 22--RICHMOND -- Testifying for the third day in his public corruption trial, former Gov. Bob McDonnell said today he saw nothing inappropriate about $70,000 in loans he negotiated with businessman Jonnie Williams in 2012.

The loans were extended by the diet supplement maker to a real estate company the governor operated with his sister to manage rental properties they owned in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach. Rents on the properties were falling short of covering expenses, and the McDonnells needed to make up the deficit.

McDonnell said he saw nothing wrong with the loans because Williams hadn't asked him to do anything on his behalf and his administration hadn't done the businessman any favors.

Williams testified earlier that he and the governor agreed the loans would be granted on a handshake and kept just between the two of them.

McDonnell today denied that claim. "There was no such discussion with Mr. Williams," he said.

He said he tried to get the terms of the loans in writing, but that never occurred.

He said he did not disclose the Williams loans on his annual financial disclosure statement because they were corporate loans for which he had no personal liability.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with soliciting more than $177,000 in loans, gifts and other favors from Williams in exchange for promoting his business from the governor's mansion.

McDonnell also was asked today about emails linking him to proposed clinical trials of Williams' tobacco-based supplement Anatabloc at the state medical schools at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. Williams was hoping to jump-start such studies as a step toward getting the product approved as a prescription drug.

Toward that end, he distributed $200,000 in grants to medical researchers at an August 2011 luncheon at the governor's mansion at which samples of Anatabloc were included at each place setting. The governor made an appearance and gave remarks at the event.

Six months later, Maureen McDonnell emailed a top aide to her husband complaining that the studies seemed to be stalled. "Gov wants to know why nothing has developed with studies after Jonnie gave $200,000," she wrote. "Gov wants to get this going."

McDonnell said today that was one of several occasions when the first lady invoked his name without his knowledge or approval.

"I did not say that to my wife," he said.

Nevertheless, the governor emailed that same aide a week later: "Pls see me about anatabloc issues at VCU and UVA."

The aide emailed back: "will do. We need to be careful with this issue."

Asked about that exchange today, McDonnell said he considered his request a matter of "constituent service."

Williams "deserved the courtesy of at least a call back if he had given $200,000," he said.

On the same night he sent that email, McDonnell emailed Williams to inquire about the status of the pending loan for the Sandbridge rental properties.

The former governor was also asked today about a meeting he attended in March 2012 concerning the state employees' health insurance plan at which he pulled a bottle of Anatabloc out of his pocket.

McDonnell said he had been taking Anatabloc three to five times a day at the time and discussed the product briefly at the meeting.

"I told them it was a Virginia company, and I thought it was having a positive effect on me," I said.

Two state officials who attended that meeting testified about it earlier in the trial. One of them, Lisa Hicks-Thomas, McDonnell's secretary of administration, said she remembered the governor asking for a meeting to be set up with representatives of Williams' company.

McDonnell said today he is unsure whether he made such a request.

"I don't have a clear recollection of that," he said.


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Source: Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)

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