Former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell finished his third day of testimony in his corruption trial by denying he used state resources to promote a dietary supplement in exchange for more than $150,000 in gifts and loans and by distancing himself from his wife’s actions.
“I spent 38 years in public life and I wouldn’t trade that for a golf match and dinner,” he said in federal court in Richmond, Virginia.
Prosecutors say McDonnell his wife, Maureen, who is also on trial, struck a deal with Jonnie Williams to use state resources to promote Anatabloc, a dietary supplement he was marketing. Yesterday the governor testified that his wife invoked his authority without his permission in an e-mail to help Williams.
In the Feb. 10, 2012, e-mail to a top gubernatorial aide, the first lady asked why researchers at two state universities weren’t returning phone calls from Star Scientific, Williams’s company, asking about the progress of research the executive wanted them to perform on his products.
“Gov wants to know why nothing has developed with studies after Jonnie gave them $200,000. Gov wants to get this going,” she wrote in an e-mail displayed for the jury.
Under questioning by his defense lawyer, the 60-year-old Republican former governor said, “I did not give her permission to send that. I knew it had happened on two occasions.” McDonnell’s questioning by the defense will continue Aug. 25.
While the former governor has been trying to show that his wife often acted independently, a lawyer for Maureen McDonnell said during opening statements in July that she had no official duties or responsibilities and shouldn’t have been charged, calling her “collateral damage” in the case against her husband. The couple faces 14 felony corruption charges.
The e-mails were sent after the McDonnells hosted an executive mansion luncheon Aug. 31, 2011, to introduce Anatabloc. At the event, Williams dispensed checks totaling $200,000 to help facilitate research into a key ingredient of his supplement, according to evidence presented to the court.
McDonnell testified that he asked an aide to find out why researchers from the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University hadn’t returned phone calls from Star Scientific.
Jasen Eige, the McDonnell aide, said he would inquire but added in an e-mail, “We need to be careful with this issue.”
While he was upset with his wife for invoking his authority, McDonnell said he saw nothing wrong with such inquiries, even though he and his family had accepted gifts, cash and loans from Williams.
“UVA and VCU took $200,000 and were not returning donors’ phone calls. He deserved the courtesy of a call back,” McDonnell said.
In other testimony, McDonnell faulted his wife for arranging a $50,000 loan from Williams, though he said he found nothing wrong with asking Williams for more money and enjoying other gifts and vacations.
Robert McDonnell’s sister, who operated a resort property partnership with him, cashed the $50,000 check. In a later e-mail to Williams, also shown to the jury, the governor wrote, “per voice mail would like to see if you could extend $20,000 this year.”
McDonnell said he didn’t think the note was inappropriate.
The ex-governor also said he didn’t think the loans to the property firm from Starwood Trust, one of Williams’s companies, needed to be reported in economic disclosure filings that state officials are required to make annually.
Part of yesterday’s testimony centered on applications to refinance mortgages on several properties McDonnell owned himself or through the resort partnership. McDonnell said he revised the applications to include Williams’ loans and other information after his wife was interviewed by the Virginia state police.
He said repeatedly during his testimony that the refinancing applications had been filled with errors and he needed to fix them.
McDonnell also complained about the state police. The McDonnells thought the interview was going to be about the alleged theft of food from the executive mansion, he said. They felt duped when the police began asking questions about the loans and Williams.
“I had to make sure everything I did with my wife was absolutely correct,” McDonnell testified. He said he spent part of that weekend revising the application, including material involving Williams he had earlier left out.
The former governor also said he saw nothing wrong with accepting an invitation in 2012 to visit the posh Chatham Bars Cape Cod resort, where Williams picked up most of the tab.
“Did Mr. Williams ask for anything?” asked Asbill.
“No,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell did say he was annoyed when his wife bought more stock in Star Scientific after he had told her it was a bad investment.
“I really don’t appreciate you doing things that affect me without telling me,” he recalled telling her. Ownership of stock by Virginia public officials and their spouses must be disclosed on annual reports.
The case is U.S. v. McDonnell, 14-cr-00012, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond).