It’s all over but the deliberating. And the jury’s work in the McDonnells’ corruption trial, set to commence Tuesday after the holiday weekend, will not be an easy labor.
The jury of seven men and five women and one alternate heard seven hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys Friday, the 25th day of the historic trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.
The emotional, pointed and sometimes scathing presentations left all in the packed seventh-floor courtroom of Judge James R. Spencer drained. That included the former governor, who stood with his head bowed and hands clasped, in an almost prayerful moment of reflection, as the jury exited for the day.
The McDonnells are charged with selling the governor’s office in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., former CEO of Star Scientific. He was looking for help in testing and promoting his dietary supplement, Anatabloc.
Defense attorneys said Friday that the U.S. never should have brought charges and that the governor gave Williams nothing in exchange for his gifts.
They alleged that Williams fed the federal government a conspiracy story to spare himself from securities charges and exploited a vulnerable Maureen McDonnell to assist his company, making the first lady “collateral damage” in a zealous prosecution of a high-ranking public official.
“This case is all quid, no pro, no quo,” said Henry Asbill, one of Bob McDonnell’s attorneys.
But federal prosecutors, who began and ended the day’s proceedings, said the case is not as complicated as the hundreds of exhibits and scores of witnesses make it seem.
‘That is bribery’
“The single, simple question of this case is: Why did he give them, why did they take them?” David V. Harbach II told the jury. Williams knew what he wanted, the prosecutor said, and “the defendants knew what Jonnie Williams wanted.”
“That is bribery,” Harbach said. “That is corruption, the real thing.”
Prosecutors, who get the last word because they have the burden of proof, closed the loop in their rebuttal argument at the end of the day.
“Why would he do it?” prosecutor Michael S. Dry asked of McDonnell. “Why would he corrupt his office? … The answer is simple: He didn’t think he’d get caught.”
As the governor, his wife and two rows of family members and friends watched, Harbach presented the first closing argument Friday morning, outlining the charges and the evidence he said supports the case.
“The story begins with the shopping spree,” Harbach said. During the New York City trip in April 2011, Williams bought the first lady $20,000 worth of designer clothes, Harbach told the jury. That is the first instance in which Bob McDonnell denied knowledge of what Williams was doing, he said.
Harbach said McDonnell denied knowledge of it even though the governor knew Williams already had offered to buy Maureen a designer dress, the McDonnells were together in the city and they stayed in the same hotel.
One item Harbach focused on was an Aug. 30, 2011, event for Anatabloc at the Executive Mansion. Attendees included the governor and first lady, Williams, others affiliated with Star Scientific, and physicians from state universities.
Was it an official act? asked Harbach. “Of course it was,” he answered.
The event was held at the Executive Mansion, “the state of Virginia’s home” and that was what mattered most to Williams — that and having the governor attend.
“This is exactly what he wanted. This is exactly what he is paying for.”
Harbach sought to counter the defense reasoning that McDonnell did not break the law because Williams never got grants from the governor’s opportunity fund or a budget appropriation.
“That’s like saying a guy who steals a TV isn’t guilty because he didn’t steal two,” the prosecutor said.
Harbach cited what he said was an example of quid pro quo in the case. The quid, he said, was a Feb. 16, 2012, email Bob McDonnell sent to Williams at 11:56 p.m. trying to work out what would become a $50,000 loan for MoBo, the family’s real estate venture in Virginia Beach.
Six minutes later, Bob McDonnell emailed his counsel and policy adviser, Jasen Eige, writing, “Pls see me about anatabloc issues at VCU and UVA. Thx.” Within minutes Eige responded: “will do. We need to be careful with this issue.”
“He shuts it down,” Harbach said of Eige.
The emails, Harbach said, show beyond any doubt that the governor was on board with the plan to kick-start Anatabloc studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia.
Harbach argued that some of the best evidence in the case is the lengths to which the two men went to hide what was going on. He said McDonnell hid it from his closest advisers, the people whose job it was to keep the governor on the straight and narrow.
“He didn’t want them to know because he knew his deal with Jonnie was dirty,” Harbach said.
Harbach also pilloried the contention that Bob McDonnell thought a $6,500 Rolex might be fake. The prosecutor introduced seven photos of McDonnell showing off the watch, which the first lady had Williams buy so she could give it to the governor.
“Who poses like this for seven photos of a watch if you thought it was a fake?” Harbach said.
Bob McDonnell “knew exactly why Jonnie Williams was showering him and his family” with gifts, Harbach told the jurors, “and so do you.”
Harbach sarcastically said that the signatures on a Pentagon Federal Credit Union loan application were just “the latest in the special banking rules for Gov. Bob McDonnell.”
The McDonnells claimed this was only a draft that they amended later. On Feb. 18, 2013, Bob McDonnell faxed in the amended form that for the first time disclosed $120,000 in loans from Williams. He faxed it three days after state investigators questioned the first lady.
The obstruction charge against Maureen McDonnell refers to a note she wrote Williams when she returned to him clothes he had bought. The note, which the first lady wrote after she was questioned by state investigators, claimed that she had intended to donate the clothes all along.
Harbach said the defense wants the jury to “check your common sense at the door.”
Harbach capped his closing argument by urging jurors not to get caught up in rhetoric about a governor’s office that once was held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
“This is bribery. This is corrupt,” Harbach said. “Don’t let it stand.”
‘Weird is not a crime’
William Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer, said that jurors might consider the former first lady accepting gifts from Williams “tacky” but that it is not a crime.
Maureen McDonnell accepted a loan and gifts from Williams, Burck said as he began his closing argument. And she promoted Anatabloc, he said.
But she was not a public official and she is not guilty of the charges filed against her, he said.
He said there’s no evidence that the former first couple conspired with each other.
So why did Maureen McDonnell accept the gifts? The government says it was helping Williams get to Bob McDonnell, Burck said. “To Maureen, it was about getting away from Bob.”
He said jurors may see her interest in nutraceuticals as “weird,” but “weird is not a crime.”
Burck said, “A case built on the word of Jonnie Williams is the very definition of reasonable doubt.”
Delving into why his client helped Williams, Burck said the former first lady was “a true believer, a fanatic about nutraceuticals.”
‘Gaga for Jonnie’
Burck said that while there was no physical or romantic relationship between the two, the evidence makes clear that Maureen McDonnell was “gaga for Jonnie.”
At the trial’s outset, Burck had labeled Maureen McDonnell as collateral damage in the case. On Friday he wrapped his closing argument by saying the former first lady has taken a lot of incoming fire in the case.
He said she was called a lot of names in the course of the trial, some of which maybe even were justified, and that her marriage was laid bare.
“In the end, Maureen McDonnell isn’t even collateral damage — she’s less than that,” he said. “She’s an afterthought.”
Asbill, a lawyer for Bob McDonnell, asserted that the former governor never urged his aides to help Williams. He also said jurors cannot convict McDonnell for accepting gifts, which is permissible under Virginia law.
“This is a bribery case, not an election,” Asbill said.
Asbill said McDonnell “never denied the people of the commonwealth” the honest services to which they were entitled when he served as governor.
‘Jonnie got nothing’
Asbill acknowledged that McDonnell had accepted gifts and that he had apologized for them and for his failings as a husband and father. But the defense attorney reminded the jury that it is charged with delivering a “legal verdict, not a moral one.”
He identified what he said are three major gaps in the government’s case: The first, he said, was that “Jonnie (Williams) didn’t get anything — nothing,” for what he gave the former first family.
The second gap, Asbill asserted, was the assumption that because the McDonnells were married they were capable of conspiring with each other to assist Williams.
Finally, Asbill said Bob McDonnell “didn’t hide anything” because he didn’t have to hide anything.
He said the loans the former governor received from Williams were disclosed “to everyone who should know about them.” Prosecutors say the McDonnells broke the law by failing to disclose on bank documents the debts of their real estate partnership to Williams.
Asbill then pivoted to the issue of credibility, juxtaposing Williams’ testimony with the five days and 27 hours of testimony from the former governor, who he said answered every question “with courage and guts.”
“And now the truth should set him free,” Asbill said.
“Jonnie got nothing from Bob,” Asbill repeated, saying that after 2½ years of intense searching, authorities still “haven’t found a thing.”
The only thing Williams received, Asbill said, was a call from the governor to Williams’ father on his birthday.
‘Jonnie’s greatest con’
Of Williams’ immunity deal, Asbill said, “This is Jonnie’s greatest con.”
“He knew that he is in serious trouble: His money, his freedom are at serious risk,” Asbill said of Williams. But he realized McDonnell was a bigger fish, said Asbill, who noted that Williams would not wear a wire against the governor.
The defense attorney suggested that if jurors have any reasonable doubt that Williams was lying in his testimony then they must acquit his client.
Shifting to the issue of the alleged conspiracy between the governor and his wife, Asbill returned to the defense theme of a dysfunctional marriage.
“They weren’t scheming. ... They weren’t speaking,” he said. Rather, he blamed Williams, saying he “insinuated himself into another man’s complicated marriage” — and that Williams and Maureen McDonnell hid much of their relationship from the governor.
That said, Asbill acknowledged that the governor should have done more to help his marriage.
“He was a strong governor,” he said. “He was a weak husband.”
Addressing the loans the McDonnells received from Williams, Asbill maintained that the governor disclosed what was required on his state economic forms. But he acknowledged that the governor failed to disclose his golf outings paid on Williams’ tab.
Asbill said it was not concealment because “there was no bribery to conceal.”
‘A sad case’
Dry argued in his rebuttal that the timing of the first couple’s actions and its receipt of gifts and loans was “devastating.”
“Mr. Williams is a criminal. He is, absolutely,” the prosecutor said. “He is a criminal because he bribed the defendants.”
“You don’t have to like Mr. Williams. You shouldn’t have to like Mr. Williams. He bribed the governor of Virginia.”
Yet no matter what verdict the jury reaches, “this is a sad case,” he said. “Make no mistake about it. It’s sad for the McDonnell family. It’s sad for the state of Virginia.”
While many things that have been said about the defendants’ marriage were salacious and sad, “at the end of the day it just doesn’t matter,” Dry said.
“Mr. McDonnell is willing to throw his wife under the bus and she’s willing to let him to avoid criminal conviction.”
McDonnell’s twin sons, Sean and Bobby, escorted him out of the courtroom to a swarm of reporters and cameras. McDonnell said he was glad the trial was over and now has to wait for the jury to do its work.
“I know in my heart what I didn’t do,” McDonnell said. He said he would rest and spend time with his family over the holiday weekend.
As his entourage passed a bus stop, a man with a beverage in a paper bag turned and said: “I hope you come out smelling like a rose.”
“Thank you,” the former governor said.