McDonnell Trial Day 25: Closing Arguments

Posted: Updated: Sep 12, 2014 09:34 AM
U.S. District Court U.S. District Court
Maureen McDonnell, Mary Shea Sutherland, and Jonnie Williams Maureen McDonnell, Mary Shea Sutherland, and Jonnie Williams

Both parties made closing arguments in the public corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen Friday.  The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting his company's tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. They could face decades in prison if convicted.

The five-week trial featured the testimony of the former governor and the prosecution's star witness, Jonnie Williams. Williams testified under immunity that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells only to secure their help.  He spent nearly $20,000 on a shopping spree for Maureen McDonnell in New York City, $6,500 on a Rolex, $15,000 on catering for a McDonnell daughter's wedding, and about $3,200 on golf outings for Bob McDonnell and his sons. He issued three loans: $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell, which she used to pay credit card bills and buy Star Scientific stock, and two checks totaling $70,000 to MoBo Realty, the money-losing Virginia Beach vacation rental house owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister. Williams also treated the McDonnells to a family vacation at Smith Mountain Lake that included use of his Ferrari. 

Bob McDonnell testified in his own defense, saying the couple did nothing illegal and extended courtesies to Williams like any other elected official would.  Maureen McDonnell did not testify.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Harbach delivered the first closing argument for the prosecution, urging jurors to focus on two questions: Why did Williams shower the McDonnells with gifts and cash, and why did they accept? The answer, he said, was they were badly in debt, and Williams was willing to provide help if they would promote Anatabloc. "That is bribery. That is corruption ... the real thing," he said.

Harbach said the only reason Williams did not get the state-backed scientific studies of Anatabloc that he wanted was because a McDonnell aide "shut it down."  He said that while state officials rejected Williams' requests, McDonnell never did.  Harbach pointed out that the McDonnells spoke several times in favor of Anatabloc, and held a launch party for it at the governor's mansion. He said the former first couple used their influence any way they could - it didn't matter that McDonnell failed to get the state-backed government research Williams needed to help legitimize Anatabloc.

"He was on the Jonnie Williams gravy train.  He and Jonnie Williams had a deal: do what you can when opportunities arise and I'll keep paying," Harbach said.

Harbach challenged the former governor's credibility, questioning McDonnell's assertion that he knew nothing about an April 2011 shopping spree in New York City in which Williams spent nearly $20,000 on designer dresses and accessories for Maureen McDonnell to wear at her daughter's wedding.  The former governor wasn't on the shopping spree, but did sit next to Williams later that day at an event.

Harbach said that McDonnell "stomped on" his 38 years of service. He concluded his closing argument by saying “this is bribery, this is corruption. Don't let it stand."

William Burck, Maureen McDonnell's lawyer delivered his closing arguments when court resumed after lunch.  He told jurors that her interactions with Williams may have been "tacky" but they are not illegal. He said her interest in nutraceuticals and her relationship with Williams may be weird, but "weird is not a crime."

He argued the former first lady couldn't have carried out any official acts to help Williams because she was not a public official. He said the McDonnells' broken marriage showed she was operating independently of her husband in her dealings with Williams.  He said she was "gaga for Jonnie" and he capitalized on her vulnerability. "He made her believe he cared about her," Burck said. "The only thing he cared about was promoting his own interests."

Burck challenged the credibility of Williams, who testified under an immunity deal that bars his prosecution not only for his dealings with the McDonnells but also possible securities fraud violations. He told the jury that "a case built on the word of Jonnie Williams is the definition of reasonable doubt."

In his closing arguments, Henry Asbill, Bob McDonnell's lawyer, said McDonnell never did anything to help Williams. Asbill said the government's case has a gaping hole: He never did anything on Williams' behalf, other than put him in touch with people in his administration.

"You're being asked to render a legal verdict, not a moral verdict," he said. "Jonnie didn't get anything. Nothing. This case is all 'quid,' no 'quo.'"

Asbill said that the McDonnells' marriage was so strained they could not have colluded to get gifts from Williams. "In private, they were silent. In private, they certainly weren't conspiring," Asbill said. At the conclusion of his argument, Asbill told the jury to "embrace" reasonable doubt.

After Asbill presented his closing arguments, U.S. Attorney Michael Dry presented a second rebuttal argument. The prosecution had a final rebuttal, because the burden of proof rests with the U.S. attorneys. In it, Dry insisted the timing in this case is devastating. He also called Jonnie Williams a criminal for committing what he called bribery, but again insisted he was not a government puppet hiding under blanket immunity. Dry called this case very sad, but told the jury there is only one verdict in this case: guilty.

The trial will pick back up on Tuesday. The judge will deliver jury instructions and then the jurors will begin deliberations. It is unclear how long those deliberations may take.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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