Star witness back on stand in Virginia ex-governor's corruption trial

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 04, 2014 10:57 AM

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Defense lawyers for former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell in his federal corruption trial on Monday wrapped up their cross-examination of the businessman alleged to have given McDonnell and his wife gifts and loans.

At the start of the trial's second week, Jonnie Williams testified that he looked at his relationship with McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, not as friendship but as something that could help his company.

McDonnell, 60, and his wife are charged with 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting $165,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for supporting Williams' former company, a dietary supplement maker now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.

Williams, who testified in U.S. District Court under immunity from prosecution, said McDonnell had called Williams's father at his request to wish him a happy 80th birthday.

"Was it business to have the governor call your father on his 80th birthday?" asked Henry Asbill, McDonnell's attorney, as he grilled Williams over his meetings with the governor and his immunity agreement.

"I didn't think I could have the governor make the call without all that money," said Williams, who was in his fourth day on the witness stand.

Williams also said McDonnell called him at one point to say, "I'm a stockholder and I'm rooting for you."

Lawyers for McDonnell, a Republican once seen as a possible White House contender, and his wife have contended that accepting the gifts was unseemly but not illegal.

Defense attorneys have tried to distance the former governor from Williams, saying the interaction was primarily between him and Maureen McDonnell.

The former first lady's lawyers said at the start of the trial that the couple's marriage had been unraveling when they accepted gifts from Williams and that she had a "crush" on Williams. That contention and allegations that the McDonnells' marriage was fraying are a possible defense against conspiracy charges.

Fear and Loathing of Jordan Peterson
Suzanne Fields

Williams has testified that he gave the former governor a Rolex watch worth upwards of $7,000 and took his wife on a $20,000 shopping spree in New York in a bid to persuade them to help promote his products.

If convicted, the McDonnells could face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine. McDonnell's four-year gubernatorial term ended in January.

(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott)