McDonnell Corruption Trial Day 7
Several government employees took the stand Tuesday in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, at the federal courthouse in Richmond.
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 Inc., in exchange for their help promoting his company's products. Williams testified under immunity as the prosecution's star witness, starting late last Wednesday and finishing Monday.
Former McDonnell scheduler Monica Block began testifying Monday about events the former first couple attended with Williams. Among them was one in Richmond that was a last-minute addition to McDonnell's schedule while the General Assembly was in session, which Block said was unusual. Block finished her testimony Tuesday morning. She called Williams a big donor, and said he saved them with scheduling matters several times by allowing McDonnell to use Williams' plane. She testified about an email she wrote calling Williams "an ‘awesome supporter' because he ‘saved our butts' with scheduling matters."
In her testimony, Block said Roskamp was not on the schedule because McDonnell was not scheduled to attend and, in fact, he did not. Block said Maureen McDonnell "did not know the difference between donors and friends" and Williams was a "blind spot" in that regard. Block said that Mary Shea Sutherland was supposed to help her with that, she should have been the last line of defense. She did not know whether Sutherland protected McDonnell.
Block said it was Williams who initiated and planned the specifics for the New York shopping trip. She testified to emails with Williams where he made arrangements for the trip, including suggestions for lunch, going to Chanel, and trying to bring designer Oscar de la Renta to meet her. Block also testified that Williams offered to have the McDonnells stay at his house at Smith Mountain Lake, saying it wasn't a request from the McDonnells. She said that Maureen did not mention a romantic relationship with Williams, but said “frankly, I don't think she'd ever tell me."
Block said Bob McDonnell's schedule was jam-packed but Block attempted to plan that the couple have lunch once a week. Block testified the McDonnells may have had dinner together - just the two of them - twice a year for their birthdays. Otherwise, they might have dinner together when their children visited town.
Block also said Maureen McDonnell's access to Bob McDonnell's calendar was taken away and that made Maureen frustrated, upset and emotional at times. Block also described Williams and Maureen as close friends.
Block said she attempted to track gifts the governor received in her calendar and that she probably should have found out Williams paid for or was at golf outings since she scheduled them.
Molly Huffstetler, an advisor to Bill Hazel, the Virginia secretary of health, testified Tuesday morning. Huffstetler said that she met with Maureen and Williams on August 1, 2011, to discuss Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement manufactured by Star Scientific. The meeting was held the day after the McDonnells returned from Williams' house at Smith Mountain Lake.
She said Bob McDonnell had asked that someone from Huffstetler's office attend the meeting. She said he set up meetings like this all the time, saying "it's common to take requests from the governor."
Huffstetler said Williams did almost all the talking. According to her notes, Williams told her a state tobacco commission was going to finance a study of Anatabloc. She testified that she sent Williams a thank you note saying she was excited about the product, but in court she described it as a polite "blow-off letter." She said nothing ever came of the meeting.
She also testified that the office scuttlebutt was to not take Williams seriously. She said they called him the ‘Tic Tac' man, saying the nickname came about after Williams met with Hazel and left samples of Anatabloc behind. She said the pills looked like the candy, Tic Tacs.
Huffstetler said Williams did not ask her for anything at the meeting and so there was nothing for her to follow up on or do after the meeting.
Dr. John Clore, the clinical research director at Virginia Commonwealth University, took the stand after Huffstetler. He testified how he came to learn about Anatabloc and meet Jonnie Williams. He said he received a call from a prominent endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins who told him he should come to the Gibson Island, MD, meeting about Anatabloc. From that, Clore wrote a note to colleagues saying he understood Mr. Williams is a good friend and that the governor wants to sponsor trial. Clore testified that information came from the Hopkins doctor.
Clore said he took Williams plane to Gibson Island where he first met Williams and talked about Anatabine and Anatabloc. Clore said he was interested in the products because of the science behind it, especially in anti-inflammatory factors.
Clore said he attended the Anatabloc launch party at the Executive Mansion, saying it felt like an official government function. He said Bob McDonnell did not speak at the function. He testified that at the end of the event he received a $25,000 check from Star Scientific made out to VCU Medical Center to prepare a request to try to obtain grant money for a study. Clore said he was a bit surprised, saying that had never happened before. He was told the study would be funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
When Clore's testimony ended, court adjourned for lunch. After the lunch break, Jasen Eige, an advisor to Bob McDonnell, took the stand. Eige testified about the inaugural dress, saying he was one of the people concerned about accepting the dress. He told the governor it would likely have to be included on public disclosure forms, in addition to it not looking right for the first lady to have an expensive dress in the middle of a recession.
He testified Maureen emailed him about the dress. The email said “I need to talk to you about inaugural clothing budget, Bob is screaming about the thousands I am charging in credit card debt. We are broke and have an unconscionable amount of credit card debt and this inauguration is killing us." Eige said it was the first time he heard the couple might have financial issues.
Eige testified the state laws that require the governor to declare gifts exempt gifts from relatives and personal friends but there is no clear interpretation of who might be a personal friend. Eige also testified that there is no bright line on whether a governor endorses a particular industry as compared to a product. He said he thought it not advisable to see the governor's face on a can of goods and so the administration tried to stay away from endorsing a particular product.
Eige testified that he noticed McDonnell was wearing a Rolex after Christmas. According to Eige, the governor told him it was a Christmas gift from Maureen and said he did not think it was "real." Eige told him, even so, wearing the watch may not be a good idea for a public servant. He said he didn't see him wearing the watch again and didn't look into it further because the governor thought it was fake.
Eige said he did not know about many of the loans or gifts from Williams until he read about them in the newspaper, including the $50,000 loan, the shopping spree Maureen and Williams had in New York, and the $15,000 wedding gift to McDonnell's daughter.
Eige testified at length about the drafts of disclosure documents the governor signed as a public official. Eige said the governor made a lot of edits. He did not check a box disclosing he held any securities. Eige also said he determined Maureen McDonnell was not required to submit a disclosure statement because she was not a public servant.
Eige testified about the process surrounding the gathering of information to put on the form from various staff members and then the review process. Eige said ultimately the governor is responsible for the form. Eige identified the McDonnells' handwriting on one draft asking about how previous governors handled disclosures. Eige acknowledged many of the gifts from Williams were not on the disclosures.
After Eige's testimony, John Faessel, a dentist-turned-financial writer took the stand, testifying he saw Maureen offer to host the Anatabloc launch at the governor's mansion. Then Pam Watts, a former administrative assistant to Bob McDonnell, testified. The day ended with FBI computer forensic examiner Tim Huff on the stand, and his testimony will continue Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.