McDonnell: "We have the truth as our best friend"

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Associated Press & 13News Now

Posted on August 19, 2014 at 5:48 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 19 at 5:56 PM

Live coverage of the McDonnell trial

UPDATE: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's sister says she had plenty of money to support a struggling real estate venture that has been an issue in her brother's public corruption trial.
   
Prosecutors say financial problems with two Virginia Beach rental homes drove McDonnell and his wife to take loans from a wealthy businessman who was seeking state-backed research on a dietary supplement made by his company.
   
But the sister, Maureen C. McDonnell, testified Monday that she earned about $560,000 in 2012 and could easily pay bills on the properties.

McDonnell's sister also testified that her sister-in-law had two sides and you never knew what you were going to get.  She said her brother's wife was either very sweet or very manipulative and deceptive. 

She also testified about her and her brother's upbringing.  She said the two were raised by strict, Catholic parents who taught them divorce was not an option. 

Those questions were likely asked to push back on implications from prosecutors that if the marriage between the former first couple was so bad, then they should have divorced.

Video: Bob McDonnell reacts to sister's testimony

Bob McDonnell talked with the group of reporters outside federal court Tuesday.

"I’ve said every day that we have the truth as our best friend in this case. Every day that we get to now present our evidence it’s a good day for us."

A reporter asked how he feels hearing things being said about his wife.

"It’s very difficult. No one likes to talk about their marriage in front of the entire country, but this is part of the case."

*****
RICHMOND - The defense continues presenting its case when the public corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, resumes in federal court in Richmond Tuesday morning.

Bob McDonnell's attorneys called five witnesses to the stand Monday as the trial entered its fourth week. Four were members of McDonnell's cabinet and the other was director of a state tobacco commission. They testified that McDonnell never asked them to do anything to benefit nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific or its former CEO, Jonnie Williams.

The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for promoting his company's products.

‘Bob’s for Jobs’
From the very start of the trial, defense attorneys have reminded jurors of the pro-business theme that McDonnell campaigned on in his 2009 bid for the governor’s mansion: ‘Bob’s for Jobs’.

In opening statements, John Brownlee, one of two lead attorneys for McDonnell, paused to play two videos of McDonnell appearing at economic development events for companies launching or expanding businesses in Virginia.

On Monday, a parade of former staffers took the stand to back up McDonnell’s commitment to creating jobs in the state.

Former Secretary of Commerce James Cheng hammered the jobs point home on Monday afternoon. During his testimony, Cheng recalled the amount of work he and McDonnell put in recruiting businesses to Virginia. He recalled the opening of a Sabra Hummus plant and the relocation of defense contractor Northrop Grumman to Virginia from California as “some of our first big successes,” in office.u

Former Secretary of the Commonwealth—who worked for McDonnell nearly continuously for 15 years— took the stand Monday morning and said McDonnell had a near-laser focus on job creation.

Kelly said any event that promoted job creation got top billing over other requests for McDonnell to appear.

Work ethic, integrity
But more than just his legacy of economic development, former staffers also reinforced McDonnell’s image as honest and hard working, too.

Kelly, the longtime staffer and former cabinet secretary, said McDonnell worked harder than his staff ‘by far’, which is a feat considering most staffers have testified to working 12-14 hour days.

Cheng, the former Secretary of Commerce, told a story of McDonnell sleeping in his SUV in between stops to promote businesses.

That same picture—of McDonnell as a hard-working, results-oriented executive—was painted during cross examination of former staffers called by prosecutors, too.

Top-level staffers, including former Chief of Staff Jason Eige and political adviser Phil Cox were among the former staffers to recount the regularity with which they could get late night phone calls and text messages from McDonnell, who was still working on state business.

Other staffers, like former scheduler Melissa Block, recalled McDonnell’s commitment to constituent service, saying the former governor reminded her to ‘say no with a smile’ when turning down requests for him to appear. Block said McDonnell was committed to sending another cabinet secretary or other staffer to events in his place.

On the stand Monday, Kelly also extolled McDonnell’s morals and ethics.

“If they had to elect the Boy Scout of the year, it would be him, Mr. Honest,” Kelly said of her former boss.

PR Campaign or defense strategy?
In addition to painting a positive picture of McDonnell for jurors, the positive testimony from former staffers also helps outline the defense’s main argument: that McDonnell was too busy being Governor of Virginia to keep track of what his wife was doing, and his wife resented him for working too hard.

Early in the trial, Cailin McDonnell Young, one of the couple’s five children, said she typically had to wait days for her dad to return her call and had to go through his scheduler to get on his calendar if she ever wanted to see him.

Defense attorneys have suggested Maureen McDonnell was similarly neglected by her husband during their time in the Governor’s Mansion.

During cross examination by John Brownlee, McDonnell’s attorney, former mansion director Sarah Scarbrough said Maureen McDonnell struggled with her husband’s position.

“She stated multiple times that she did not want to be the first lady,” Scarbrough testified.

During the same testimony, Scarbrough testified that Maureen was ‘sneaky’ and attorneys put up evidence that showed the former staffer calling her a ‘spoiled brat.’

Phil Cox, the governor’s longtime political adviser, testified during questioning from Brownlee that Maureen McDonnell was tough to work with.

“When she was happy she could be incredibly sweet and caring but when she was unhappy she could be incredibly mean,” Cox said.

While defense attorneys have sought to paint McDonnell as hard working, they have painted his wife as mean, crazy and out of control.

On the stand Monday, Janet Kelly suggested Maureen McDonnell suffered from mental illness.

At one point, Kelly said, the entire staff of the governor’s mansion threatened to quit if working conditions did not improve.

Defense attorneys published portions of the threatening letter for the jury to read.

“We, as a group, are concerned about the general tension that permeates the building at all times,” the letter read.

Ultimately, though, Kelly testified that staffers didn’t present the letter to the then-first lady after discussing it with a VCU management consultant who had been brought in to ease tensions among Maureen McDonnell’s staff.

Even if they had given her the letter, Kelly said, it wouldn’t have done any good.

“She was pathologically incapable of accepting any responsibly,” Kelly told jurors.

Defense attorneys for the former first lady have said she was lonely in Governor’s Mansion and developed a crush on wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams.

Williams, during his four days of testimony, repeated over and over that his relationship with the McDonnells was strictly business. But other witnesses have suggested at least Maureen McDonnell wanted more from their friendship.

Kelly testified on Monday that Maureen McDonnell and Williams seemed very close during a flight on Williams’ private jet to South Carolina taken by the three of them.

“It was kind of flirty. She was very, very, very friendly,” Kelly said of Mrs.McDonnell.

Attorneys for Bob McDonnell have pointed out throughout the trial that it was Maureen who accepted the $50,000 personal loan from Williams and who went on a shopping spree that netted roughly $20,000 in designer clothes in New York City.

Attorneys for the former governor have argued that their client had no clue about the shopping spree.

 

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