Bob McDonnell on Jonnie Williams: "I thought he was a true friend"

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by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on August 22, 2014 at 6:53 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 22 at 5:36 PM

Live coverage of the McDonnell trial

RICHMOND -- Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell laid the blame for a $50,000 loan from a wealthy businessman at his wife's feet Friday as he entered a third day of testimony in his federal corruption trial.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's products.

McDonnell had been on the stand since late Wednesday being questioned by one of his lead defense attorneys.

When it came time to wrap up Friday, his attorney, Henry Asbill, asked McDonnell if he blamed Jonnie Williams for the crimes he faced.

“In part,” McDonnell replied. “I misjudged Jonnie Williams. I thought he was a true friend,” McDonnell said. “I had no idea he would come into federal court and make false statements about me.”

McDonnell spent a bulk of his testimony on Friday pushing back against a number of things Williams had testified to nearly three weeks earlier.

Among the allegations McDonnell said were false, was testimony from Williams claiming McDonnell had told him he wanted to keep a business loan deal between the two of them.

In February 2012, Bob McDonnell said he met with Williams at his wife's request to look at securing money for a vacation-rental business that the then-governor owned with his sister. Williams at first proposed giving the business, MoBo Real Estate Partners LLC, stock in his Virginia-based public company, Star Scientific, that could be borrowed against.

Williams thought that would help the couple avoid a need to disclose the money, Bob McDonnell said, contradicting Williams' testimony two weeks previous that attributed the idea to the McDonnells.

Maureen McDonnell initiated conversations with Williams about the loan, made final in March 2012, without his knowledge, Bob McDonnell said. But the governor didn't see a problem with getting the loan because Williams was not asking for favors.

The McDonnells' former brother-in-law said last week that the two Virginia Beach, Va., vacation homes MoBo owned were operating with a $50,000-a-year shortfall, a number that a bookkeeper testifying this week for the defense said was really far lower because depreciation was included in the amount.

However, Bob McDonnell said he OK'd a second $20,000 loan from Williams in May 2012 because MoBo continued to operate in the red, in part because that brother-in-law had been diverting money from MoBo, and Williams offered to lend him more.

Virginia laws about gifts to public officials are among the most lax in the country. A governor can accept just about any gift, but he must report anything valued at $50 or more, and if a company or individual gives him several smaller gifts, he must disclose that when the total amount reaches $100.

When Bob McDonnell filed his 2012 state forms in January 2013, he disclosed only one of the loans and in vague terms, according to the federal indictment handed down 10 days after Bob McDonnell left office.

He listed a personal liability of an immediate family member to an individual creditor for an amount between $10,001 and $50,000 — the state's form asks only for amounts in ranges — with the creditor's occupation as "Health Care."

That actually referred to a May 2011 loan from Williams to Virginia's first lady, Bob McDonnell said. The $70,000 did not have to be disclosed because it was a loan to the MoBo corporation, not to him or immediate family.

Walking into court Friday morning, McDonnell said he expected his testimony to continue for a while.

"Well, I've got several more days.  My job is to listen to the questions and tell the truth and that's what I'm doing," McDonnell said. 

On Thursday, the former governor of Virginia spent most of the day discussing his marriage.

The McDonnells say their marriage was broken, they were barely speaking and they couldn't have engaged in the criminal conspiracy for which they're on trial.

McDonnell told jurors that his marriage is currently on hold and that he moved in with his church’s priest a week before the trial. McDonnell said the troubles with wife Maureen are the result of tensions in his marriage that started as far back as the early 1990s.

Jurors saw a forlorn email McDonnell wrote to his wife three years ago trying to save his marriage, telling her she was his "soulmate."  He  choked up as he described Labor Day 2011, when he says his wife rejected his efforts to spend the weekend with her. He wrote he was at a loss to deal with his wife's anger.

McDonnell downplayed the significance of his joy ride in a Ferrari owned by Williams.  He said it was fun to drive the sports car back to Richmond from a free vacation at the businessman's Smith Mountain Lake house and he did not think it was "big deal."

Jurors were shown several photos of McDonnell driving the Ferrari, which is one the world's most expensive sports cars.

Bob McDonnell will be back on the stand Monday for cross examination.  Follow reporter @13NickOchsner who is inside the courtroom. You can also find his tweets on our live blog on WVEC.com.


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