Key Witness in Ex-Va. Gov. McDonnell Trial: Gifts, But No Affair
RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s wife exchanged 1,200 text messages and phone calls with the CEO of a dietary supplement company in less than two years, including 52 in one day, according to evidence presented Friday intended to contradict the businessman’s claim their relationship was strictly business.
As Jonnie Williams took the stand a third day in the corruption trial of McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, the defense took aim at his credibility as a star prosecution witness. Williams has detailed some $165,000 in gifts and loans he showered upon the family, including a Rolex watch and a joy ride in his Ferrari. He has said he did not consider them friends, was not romantically involved with the first lady and thought it would help promote his business.
On Friday, Williams acknowledged frequent calls and texts with Maureen McDonnell but said the majority of it was about getting her help to promote his company’s products. Soon after, attorney William Burck showed an email Maureen McDonnell sent to Williams the day an earthquake hit Virginia: “I just felt the EARTH MOVE AND I WASN’T HAVING SEX!!!!”
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count federal indictment with taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the former Star Scientific Inc. CEO in exchange for their help promoting his company’s products, primarily the dietary supplement Anatabloc. If convicted, they could face decades in prison.
Williams, who has been granted immunity, was by turns forgetful, frustrated and funny as he was grilled about whether the former governor and onetime rising GOP star asked for or was aware of the gifts requested by Maureen McDonnell.
In particular, attorney Henry Asbill pressed Williams on whether Bob McDonnell was aware that Williams had purchased $20,000 worth of luxury clothes and accessories for Maureen during a Manhattan shopping spree in 2011.
Williams said he assumed the governor would have seen the shopping bags and known about the shopping trip — an assumption Asbill pressed.
“You didn’t know whether he saw the bags or not, do you?” Asbill asked.
He also asked whether Bob McDonnell had thanked Williams for paying for Maureen’s shopping spree. Williams said no.
“Now that would have been really awkward,” Williams said.
According to phone records produced by Burck, Williams and Maureen McDonnell exchanged 52 texts on a single day in 2011. The records showed eight texts between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. on another day, though Williams said they never communicated in the middle of the night.
Burck said earlier in the week that Maureen McDonnell developed a “crush” on Williams and had been deceived into believing he cared for her.
The defense attacked Williams’ credibility on other fronts too, pointing to inconsistencies in his statements to authorities during the investigation. Williams said that when he was first interviewed without a lawyer present in January 2013, he told the FBI and state police that he and McDonnell were golfing buddies and that he had neither requested nor expected anything from the governor.
He said that when an officer asked him whether he would be willing to wear a wire, he stopped the meeting and called his lawyers.
“At that point, my thought was the governor could be in trouble and I could be in trouble,” Williams said.
He had a harder time remembering what he told investigators at subsequent meetings after he received immunity, answering several questions with “I don’t recall.”
In an apparent move to stress Williams’ showy, free-spending ways, Burck asked about a gathering at a resort where Williams bought a $5,000 bottle of cognac to share with three other men and poured the last little bit of the liquor into a fire pit.
“I was curious what it would do,” he said.
Williams became agitated when Burck asked him about the designer clothes he bought for Maureen McDonnell. After the investigation began, she returned the items along with a letter saying she hoped Williams’ daughters would enjoy them or that they could be donated to charity. Prosecutors have charged her with obstruction, saying she implied they were simply loaned to her.
Burck asked Williams repeatedly whether there was anything in the letter explicitly saying they had an agreement, and Williams struggled to answer.
“I’m having trouble with you moving me around something that’s not true,” he said.
He said it didn’t make sense that Maureen McDonnell would suggest is daughters could use the clothes. They both wear a size 0, he said.
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