RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell faced sharp questions Monday from prosecutors about his personal finances, his interactions with a wealthy businessman and what the government claims were his attempts to conceal those details.
Prosecutors began their cross-examination of McDonnell as his public corruption trial entered its fifth week. He and his wife, Maureen, are charged with providing special favors to former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans while McDonnell was in office.
Some questions prompted short yes or no answers from a weary-sounding McDonnell. Others led to long pauses and lengthy explanations. At one point, U.S. District Judge James Spencer admonished McDonnell to just “answer the question” when he began to ramble.
Often the defendant said he could not recall details of some conversation, email or document he was asked to explain. As the day wore on and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry pressed harder, McDonnell grew increasingly testy.
For example, the former governor chafed when Dry asked if he had authorized his spokesman to tell reporters that the family was paying for a daughter’s wedding even though Williams paid $15,000 for catering. McDonnell said he was trying to emphasize that it wasn’t costing the taxpayers.
“I told him the state is not paying, the family is,” McDonnell said sternly.
McDonnell testified again that he did not report the $15,000 on his state-required financial disclosure form because he considered it a gift to his daughter, not to him, even though he negotiated and signed the contract and an overpayment refund check from the caterer was made out to his wife.
The former governor accepted responsibility for failing to report more than $3,200 in golfing expenses paid by Williams, saying it was an oversight. Dry asked how he could overlook the gift when he and his sons were playing another round on Williams’ tab just nine days before submitting the disclosure form.
“It was a mistake and it should have been on there,” McDonnell said.
Dry also asked McDonnell why he suggested that his twin sons return golf equipment from Williams that came “out of the blue,” but did not also tell his wife to return a $50,000 loan that she claimed she was similarly surprised to receive from the family’s benefactor. The prosecutor seemed incredulous that McDonnell, who said he was upset that his wife took the money because they didn’t need it, did not call Williams about it for more than a month.
McDonnell said it was his wife’s loan, and he only called Williams to verify the terms because his wife had not received any paperwork.
Financial issues are key because prosecutors have said McDonnell’s financial desperation is what prompted him to accept cash and gifts from Williams. McDonnell says he considered Williams a friend and that he had been making steady progress in reducing his family’s debt even without Williams’ help.
Dry asked McDonnell about a series of emails from staffers in which they speculated that Maureen McDonnell was drawn to Williams because “he’s loaded.” McDonnell, after initially demurring, said he didn’t believe his wife was drawn to Williams for his money.
“Money? That wasn’t the reason for friendship, no,” McDonnell said. But asked whether his wife had a long history of making inappropriate financial requests of friends and family, McDonnell agreed.
McDonnell acknowledged that he knew Williams had loaned him and his wife $120,000 and provided numerous expensive gifts. During three days on the stand in direct examination, McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge about some of the gifts, saying he did not learn about them until after the fact or that they had been arranged by his wife.
Dry asked McDonnell if he was testifying that, despite his knowledge of his wife’s inappropriate financial requests and Williams’ lavish spending on other occasions, it never occurred to him that Williams might pick up the tab.
“That’s exactly what I’m testifying to, yes,” McDonnell said.
Earlier Monday, under questioning by his wife’ lawyer, McDonnell said she never asked him to do anything to help Williams’ business ventures.
He also acknowledged that he had dealt with his wife’s angry outbursts for years and didn’t do enough to help her or staffers cope. Eventually, he said, Maureen McDonnell agreed to counseling and medication.
He said his wife rejected marital counseling because she was afraid it would become public.
The state of the McDonnells’ marriage has been another big issue at trial; the defense has suggested they could not have conspired in a gifts-for-favors scheme because they were barely talking to each other.
But Dry introduced into evidence photos showing the McDonnells holding hands at three preliminary court appearances, along with records showing the couple took 18 trips together over 22 months.
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