News / USA

Ex-Governor's Corruption Trial Has Lurid Sideshow

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, right, and his wife Maureen, center, leave Federal court after a motions hearing in Richmond, Va., May 19, 2014.
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, right, and his wife Maureen, center, leave Federal court after a motions hearing in Richmond, Va., May 19, 2014.

The corruption trial of a former governor of an American state who was once a serious White House contender is captivating the nation with tales of excess and lurid details of a broken marriage.
 
Bob and Maureen McDonnell are on trial in Virginia’s capital, Richmond, facing 14 charges, including accepting bribes and obstructing an investigation. If convicted, both could face up to twenty years in prison.
 
The government asserted that the ex-governor and his wife took $120,000 in loans and $50,000 in gifts from Richmond businessman Jonnnie Williams. 
 
Prosecutors say Williams was hoping to get the governor and Virginia’s “First Lady” to provide state assistance and personal endorsements to Williams’ company Star Scientific, which was selling dietary supplements.
 
Luxury shopping sprees, cash loans

The prosecution’s case detailed, among other things, expensive shopping sprees for Maureen McDonnell and substantial cash loans to the couple to help them recover from several soured real estate investments, Williams allegedly picked up the tab for the McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding and provided the governor with a Rolex watch with a special inscription.
 
To increase the pressure on the McDonnells, the government granted Jonnie Williams immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation.
 
“If he did not have immunity, he would very likely be in the same boat as the McDonnells because he has as much as admitted that he showered the McDonnells with gifts in order to get benefits from the governor,” said University of Richmond law professor Henry Chambers. “That he appears to have been unsuccessful does not matter.”
 
Williams told the court that Maureen McDonnell never told him that his gifts were excessive or inappropriate. The businessman also testified that he was never told by the governor to stop showering them with gifts and favors.
 
In late 2013, as the pre-indictment investigation into the McDonnells was underway, the couple said it repaid Williams for the wedding expenses and the loans. They said they also returned the Rolex watch. But to federal investigators, those actions did not cancel out acts they considered to be criminal.
 
Defense strategy

The McDonnells’ defense team has come up with a strategy that plays to the weakness of Virginia’s official ethics laws. They assert that it was Maureen McDonnell, not the ex-governor, who was responsible for the actions connected to Jonnie Williams. They say Virginia regulations on behavior by officials don’t apply to spouses.
 
“The most important point is to focus on the notion that Maureen McDonnell did not conspire with Bob McDonnell, and that Jonnie Williams got nothing more than any motivated Virginia businessman should get from a governor – help promoting a Virginia product that the governor appeared to believe in,” Chambers said.
 
To try to make that more convincing, the ex-governor’s lawyers have portrayed Maureen McDonnell as a cold, difficult, even unstable person who had lost her affections for her husband. She turned instead to an infatuation with Williams, who allegedly responded with money and gifts.
 
But on the witness stand, Williams threw cold water on that story, saying “I didn’t know she had any interest in me until this past week. No, I’ve never had any contact with Mrs. McDonnell, any physical contact. Period.”
 
Close personal relationship

FILE - In this May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia, Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, pose for a photo.FILE - In this May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia, Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, pose for a photo.
x
FILE - In this May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia, Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, pose for a photo.
FILE - In this May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia, Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, pose for a photo.

However, evidence indicates that Maureen McDonnell and Williams had a close personal relationship, having been seen together numerous times at events and elsewhere. And the court was told that the two of them made more than 1,200 phone calls and text messages to each other between April 2011 and February 2013.
 
As part of that “estranged, unstable wife” legal positioning, the ex-governor testified that he moved out of their house in July, shortly before the trial began.
 
"I didn’t want to go home,” he told the court. “I didn’t have the emotional capacity to go home.”  
 
The ex-governor’s lawyers said they if he did assist Williams, it was only part of his role as Virginia’s chief executive to promote jobs and economic growth in the state.
 
What's next?

The case has yet to go to the jury, which is made up of 12 citizens picked before the trial began.
 
And that jury selection process will matter greatly when those dozen people soon decide whether Robert, or Maureen McDonnell – or both of them – are guilty of the federal charges against them.
 
“The prosecution,” Attorney Jacob Frenkel told Fox News, “wants jurors who are going to be offended by graft, who are offended by people who have their hand out.”
 
But Frenkel added, “On the other hand, what the defense wants are jurors who are going to be sympathetic, [who] view the McDonnells as popular, effective public officials.”


Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John from: Juneau Alaska
August 25, 2014 12:54 PM
The governor returned the Rolex when he got caught. Thats a great idea. Does it mean that every black person who is put in jail for stealing something can get out by returning whatever it was he or she stole?

by: Bob sackimanow from: USA
August 25, 2014 12:40 PM
So you're the Voice of America? I thought you were tasked with providing relevant news to those around the world, especially those in oppressed nations. So you think a trial regarding the former Governor of Virginia and his wife fits the criteria of your mission? Please.
In Response

by: Jeffrey Young from: VOA Washington
August 26, 2014 12:51 PM
Mr. Sackimanow:

I am VOA's "corruption correspondent" - my "beat" covers acts of improper behavior by elected officials and others, and the effort to mitigate such activity. The McDonnell trial piece here was done to show that high level officials in the United States can and do get put in the dock for their behavior when it is deemed to cross legal boundaries. If you put my name in search on voanews.com you will see quite a number of reports involving official corruption and what's being done to address it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs