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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Role in Fighting IS Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Enter Public Office in Record Numbers

A steady deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid