McDonnell Corruption Trial Day 2: Opening Statements
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Opening statements have been delivered and testimony has begun in the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. Tuesday prosecutors and defense attorneys laid out their case in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond.
The McDonnells are accused of taking gifts in return for political favors. In a 14-count indictment, they are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplements company. According to the Associated Press, Bob McDonnell is accused of setting up a meeting between Williams and a state health official, hosting a product launch reception at the Executive Mansion, and attending an event aimed at persuading doctors to recommend the Star Scientific product Anatabloc.
Legal experts say a key question for the jury will be whether McDonnell believed it was criminal to accept gifts - which included loans, a Rolex watch, designer clothing, golf trips and $15,000 for his daughter's wedding expenses - while supporting Williams' efforts to grow a Virginia business.
Plenty of bombshells came out of opening statements and witness testimony Tuesday. The McDonnells' defense teams both describe the couple’s marriage as almost entirely broken, saying Maureen told the former governor she hated him for serving the public. Worse, they say the lead witness for the government, Jonnie Williams, was the person who invaded and poisoned the marriage.
In opening statements for the prosecution, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said the McDonnells were lining their pockets with secret cash and that they went to great lengths to hide it. She told the jury Williams will not be testifying just out of "the goodness of his own heart." He was granted blanket immunity. Williams will not face criminal charges for any of his actions related to the McDonnell case - including matters before the Security and Exchange Commission.
Aber also said the McDonnells knew what Williams wanted was access to government officials and university researchers and they hid it from the public.
In his opening statement, Maureen McDonnell’s attorney, William A. Burck, defended her by saying she was a volunteer and not a government official. He also said there could be no conspiracy because the couple fought more than they communicated.
Burck said Williams has changed versions of what he said happened with every meeting with the former governor. He described Williams as an alleged mastermind of deceit on many levels saying that he was like a cellphone with different versions; no one knows which one they are getting.
Burck said the former first lady had an inappropriate relationship with Williams. He said Maureen McDonnell was known for calling Williams her “favorite playmate” and that Williams took advantage of her. He told the jury the relationship between Williams and Mrs. McDonnell was inappropriate. He also said that the McDonnells' relationship was on the rocks, and the two fought.
Charles James is a defense attorney who was at the opening statements. According to him, “Many of the charges they face are conspiracy charges. Anything (that) undermines the relationship and determines it is fractured or frayed gets to the underlying conspiracy allegation. I think you will see much more of that as the trial goes on.”
In his opening statements, Bob McDonnell's defense attorney John Brownlee, says McDonnell has nothing to hide, that he would not have put his career on the line as a presidential candidate for Williams or anyone else. He said the former governor would have never thrown his integrity and career away for a catering bill, referring to the $15,000 for his daughter's wedding.
Brownlee said the marriage was fractured and they didn't communicate, let alone conspire. He called Williams an "outsider" who "poisoned" the marriage.
According to Brownlee, Bob McDonnell will testify on his own behalf.
The McDonnells' daughter, Cailin McDonnell Young, was one of the first witnesses called to the stand by the prosecution as testimony got underway Tuesday afternoon. She testified about the $15,000 check from Williams for her wedding. She said that Williams paid too much for the wedding and her mother kept the overage of more than $4,000 until the government questioned her.
The trial is expected to last at least five weeks. If convicted, Bob and Maureen McDonnell could face decades in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.