11:45 a.m. UPDATE: "It's a long trial. Every day the truth comes out is a better day for us. Thank you," Bob McDonnell said as he walked into U.S. District Court Monday.
RICHMOND -- The second week of the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen begins with the man accused of bribing them with more than $150,000 in cash and gifts back on the stand.
Wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams is the prosecution’s star witness. He was called to testify late Wednesday afternoon. His testimony continues Monday, when attorneys for the former governor will continue asking their questions.
Will Jonnie Williams’ memory sharpen in Monday testimony?
If Williams’ testimony resembles anything like his testimony on Friday, jurors won’t hear many actual answers.
On Friday, when Maureen McDonnell’s lead defense attorney Bill Burck spent most of the day questioning Williams, the wealthy businessman responded to many questions saying he couldn’t recall.
Defense attorneys are trying to poke holes in Williams’ credibility to raising questions with the story he told the jury during questioning from prosecutors.
Among the things Williams couldn’t remember: any conversation he had with federal investigators and prosecutors, including a meeting from Sunday, July 27th. In his opening statement to jurors on Tuesday, Burck accused Williams of changing his story nine times before the trial; each time making his story more favorable for the defense.
On Friday, Williams also didn’t remember when he told Bob McDonnell about a $50,000 loan he gave Maureen. On Wednesday, he testified that he spoke with McDonnell about it by phone two days after he dropped off a check to the then-first lady. On Friday, though, he suggested he may have seen the then-governor on his trip to the executive mansion to drop off the check.
A business relationship
One of the biggest questions jurors will have to sort out is whether or not the relationship between Williams and the McDonnells was friendly or based strictly on business.
Williams has gone out of his way to make it clear he viewed his relationship with the first couple as strictly a ‘business friendship’ but Buck, Maureen McDonnell’s attorney, presented evidence on Friday that suggested differently.
Burck introduced phone records that showed Williams exchanged 1,200 text messages and phone calls with Maureen McDonnell in a nearly two-year period between 2011 and 2013. Some of those text messages came during the wee hours of the morning.
When presented with the phone records Friday, Williams said they were wrong and denied sending any text messages to the former first lady late at night.
Williams’ insistence on sticking to his story of having a relationship with the McDonnells devoid of anything other than a business interest drew sharp words from Bob McDonnell’s attorney, Henry Asbill, late Friday afternoon.
“You don’t want to tell me you had any personal feelings towards my client, do you?”
That question raised an objection from lead prosecutor Michael Dry.
Prosecutors have pushed Williams to stick to his story of a strict business relationship as a way to reinforce the notion that the trips, gifts and loans Williams age the McDonnells were part of a quid pro quo in which the McDonnells helped promote a new dietary supplement Williams’ company was launching.
An Eccentric CEO
Defense attorneys are also trying to paint Williams as an eccentric CEO who has had a successful business career and has amassed millions in personal fortune.
On Thursday, Burck asked Williams to recount his entire business career—a question which resulted in a nearly hour-long monologue during which Williams detailed how he started five successful companies from the ground up.
During that questioning, though, Williams refused to divulge his net worth.
Even without answering that question, it’s clear the wealthy businessman has done well for himself.
Testimony has revealed he owns several vacation homes, has traveled by private jet for the past two decades and has an expensive taste in cars.
During cross examination, Williams said he once owned a Rolls Royce but didn’t care for it. When asked if the Ferrari he owned and had delivered to his vacation home for Bob McDonnell to drive over a long weekend was fun to drive, Williams said, “it was OK.”
Williams has testified that, on at least two occasions, he purchased a $5,000 bottle of cognac while entertaining a group that included the McDonnells.
One of those occasions—at a restaurant in the lobby of the Four Seasons in New York City—defense attorneys claim Williams also broke out his cell phone and bragged about having the cell phone numbers of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
Questioning continues Monday morning. Attorneys for Bob McDonnell still have a lot to ask about. On Friday, they barely began to run down the list of gifts Williams gave the McDonnells before the judge called an end to the day and sent the jury off on an early weekend.