News Column

McDonnell ends testimony, repeats innocence claim

August 26, 2014

By Bill Sizemore, The Virginian-Pilot

Aug. 26--RICHMOND -- Former Gov. Bob McDonnell completed his testimony in his federal corruption trial this afternoon, his fifth day on the stand, by reiterating his insistence that he never conspired to help businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $177,000 in loans, gifts and other favors.

He did concede, in answer to a question from one of his defense attorneys, that he took too many gifts from Williams and regrets it.

"I allowed my life to get out of balance so that my judgment was not what it should have been," he said. "That was my error, and I take responsibility for it."

McDonnells' attorneys expect to finish presenting their evidence Wednesday. After that, attorneys for the former governor's wife, Maureen, will present their case.

Earlier today, a prosecutor bored in on McDonnell's interactions with Williams in a painstaking cross-examination on the trial's 22nd day.

Prosecutor Michael Dry concentrated on the close timing of McDonnell's negotiations with Williams over a $50,000 loan and an email to the governor's legal counsel about proposed clinical trials of Williams' diet supplement Anatabloc.

On Feb. 16, 2012, McDonnell emailed Williams asking if he should call the businessman's lawyer about the pending loan. Six minutes later, he emailed his legal counsel, Jasen Eige, asking to meet about the proposed Anatabloc trials at two state medical schools, which Williams hoped to initiate as a step toward getting the product approved as a prescription drug.

Williams was frustrated at the time that the proposed studies appeared to be stalled.

Dry asked McDonnell: How many other times had any business person he dealt with as governor loaned his family $50,000?

None, McDonnell replied.

How many had made loans to a real estate company he operated with his sister?

None, McDonnell said.

How many treated him to free golf outings at an exclusive country club?

None, McDonnell said.

Dry then asked: Did you see Williams as unique?

If the prosecutor was suggesting a connection between Williams' money and the proposed Anatabloc studies, McDonnell replied, "you're completely off base."

As he has done in previous testimony, he described the actions he took on Williams' behalf as "basic constituent service."

Eige responded to the governor's email with an admonition that "we need to be careful with this issue."

Dry asked McDonnell why he didn't tell his legal counsel or his other senior aides about the Williams loans. "I don't talk about my personal finances with my subordinates," McDonnell replied.

The former governor repeated what he has said before: The loans, gifts and luxury vacations Williams showered on McDonnell and his family had no bearing on any actions McDonnell took on the businessman's behalf. Williams was treated just like any other Virginia business person, he said.

"Whether they gave a dime or gave nothing or gave a million dollars, they were treated the same," he said.

Pointing out that the real estate company McDonnell owned with his sister lost between $40,000 and $60,000 a year for six years, Dry asked McDonnell if he thought the businessman considered his $70,000 in loans to the company a sound investment.

"Why do you think he did it?" Dry asked.

"He expected to get paid back with interest," McDonnell replied.

The loans were in fact paid back, after the criminal investigation into the McDonnells' relationship with Williams became known.

At another point today, Dry contrasted the operation of the McDonnells' real estate company with the ex-governor's rhetoric about fiscal conservatism.

McDonnell and his sister both testified that they made a business decision to cover the annual shortfalls incurred by the rental properties they owned in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach by taking out loans rather than putting their own money into the venture.

As a counterpoint, prosecutors played a video clip for the jury of an interview McDonnell gave Sean Hannity of Fox News in August 2012, after the Williams loans were given.

Hannity told the governor he was impressed with how he had pared back Virginia's budget.

It was just a matter of "using common-sense fiscal principles," a smiling McDonnell told the interviewer. "You can't spend more than you have, or you go broke."


For updates, return to later and read tomorrow's Virginian-Pilot.


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