Defense to Begin in Corruption Trial Against Ex-Va. Governor

Defense begins case in former Va. governor trial

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    NEWSLETTERS

    On Day 1 for the defense in the McDonnell corruption trial, a parade of former cabinet secretaries took the stand, including one who painted a very stark contrast between the former governor and his wife. (Published Monday, Aug 18, 2014)

    One of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's most loyal top staffers took the stand Monday in the public corruption trial against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

    Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said she loved working for the then-governor, but described Maureen McDonnell's behavior as "challenging."

    Prosecutors say the McDonnells accepted more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's dietary supplements. Williams received immunity for his cooperation with the government.

    On the stand, Kelly explained the priorities of the McDonnell administration and provided detail about her workaholic boss. She also began to discuss her relationship with Maureen McDonnell, with whom she worked closely during Bob McDonnell's 2009 campaign.

    "When I became secretary of the commonwealth, it was a strange time in our relationship," Kelly testified. "The campaign was the first time I saw on a frequent basis the challenging behavior I'm sure the jury has heard about."

    "I told the governor flat out when he offered me the secretary of the commonwealth job [that] I couldn't work with Maureen," said Kelly, who had also managed McDonnell's campaign for attorney general in 2005.

    Kelly said when she was installed in the cabinet, she asked for a separate point of contact with Maureen.

    "My relationship with the first lady had deteriorated past the point of common sense," Kelly said.

    Asked to elaborate on the first lady's behavior, Kelly began to cry, saying she didn't want to "pile on" before describing Maureen McDonnell as "very difficult, very demanding, very diva-ish."

    She testified that she was at first concerned about working for the governor because of the first lady's behavior.

    "She didn't grow into that role [of first lady] easily and it showed," Kelly said. "She didn't handle stress well. She would freak out at little things and take it out on people when she got upset."

    In contrast, Kelly described Bob McDonnell as a demanding but gracious boss, seeking the "best and brightest" as she made recommendations to help him fill the administration's 4,000 board and commission positions.

    "On a professional level, he was very driven; he was very clear in what he wanted us to do," Kelly testified.

    His "Bobs for Jobs" campaign promise was the number one priority and it governed many of McDonnell's decisions, Kelly said.

    "He was a good tough [boss], and I loved working for him," she said. "It was an honor to work for him. ...There was never a time when I questioned his motives."

    Kelly described McDonnell as "one of the most honest people I know."

    "If they had to elect the Boy Scout of the year, Mr. Honest, it would be him," she said.

    Kelly also described how she observed the relationship between the McDonnells, and the relationship between Maureen McDonnell and Williams. She testified the McDonnells seemed more affectionate publicly than they did otherwise. But she said she does believe he loves her.

    Kelly said she flew to an event for presidential candidate Mitt Romney with Williams and Maureen McDonnell and said they were obviously fond of each other.

    "It was kind of flirty," she said.

    On the flight back, without Maureen, Williams tried to sell Star Scientific stock to Kelly.

    "I went home that night and prayed about it, but I just didn't have a good feeling," she testified.

    Another encounter between Kelly and Williams occurred at an event where he asked to be seated next to Dr. William Hazel, Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Kelly asked Hazel about it.

    "He said, probably with profanity, 'No'," Kelly said.

    Hazel testified previously in the trial that he once asked not to be seated next to Williams at a reception because, "Frankly, I thought it would be a very long evening," and that he didn't have much regard for the Star Scientific dietary supplement Anatabloc.

    She also testified McDonnell never asked her to appoint or hire anyone affiliated with Williams to any board or position.

    The defense introduced into evidence a letter signed by most of the governor's mansion staff, characterizing it as a possible mass resignation. Kelly testified the grievances in the letter were accurate and fair.

    Before Maureen McDonnell's lawyer questioned Kelly, he motioned again for the couple to be tried separately but was denied. 

    Three members of Bob McDonnell's cabinet testified Monday afternoon that he never had them act to benefit Star Scientific, Jonnie Williams or Anatabloc.

    While James Cheng, McDonnell's secretary of commerce, described several ways in which the government could help businesses, he said McDonnell never used them for the benefit of Star Scientific or Williams.

    On cross examination, the government asked Cheng that if McDonnell asked him to meet with a businessman, would Cheng want to know about $120,000 in personal loans from the businessman to McDonnell. Cheng said they would not care about that and would remain focused on the best interests of the state. Earlier he testified that the administration pursued business growth and creation of jobs from a bipartisan standpoint.

    Former Secretary of Education Laura Fornash testified that at no time did McDonnell ask for advocating for Star Scientific or Jonnie Williams to state universities. Secretary of Finance Richard Brown said McDonnell never asked for or discussed allocating money for Star Scientific, Williams or a dietary supplement.

    Neal Noyes, retired director of the tobacco commission, also testified that McDonnell did not lobby for a grant to study Anatabloc.

    The defense begins

    Brenda Chamberlain, bookkeeper for MoBo Realty, was the first witness to take the stand Monday, as the defense began presenting its case.

    The defense tried to show no attempt to hide $70,000 in loans to MoBo, as Chamberlain testified she was given full access to the accounts and could see the loans.

    But during cross-examination, the government showed Williams wasn't named, only his Starwood Trust, which made the loans to MoBo. Chamberlain testified she never spoke to anyone with Starwood.

    Chamberlain also testified that in March 2013 -- after Maureen McDonnell was questioned by investigators about Williams -- Bob McDonnell asked Chamberlain to send him her rates and a confidentiality agreement. Chamberlain sent him a formal letter of agreement, but said she didn't have a standard confidentiality agreement as she had never before been asked to sign one.

    The trial entered its fourth week in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Monday. The week began with the loss of a juror due to a family emergency, leaving only one alternate juror.

    Forty-five witnesses testified for the prosecution. Among them was Williams.

    Defense attorneys have said Bob McDonnell will testify at some point. They indicated in court papers that Maureen McDonnell probably will not testify.

    Motion to Dismiss Charges Denied Friday

    Friday, Bob and Maureen McDonnell's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the 14 corruption charges against the couple, saying the prosecution had failed to prove the couple had violated any laws. But Judge James R. Spencer denied them.

    The defense's arguments Friday were similar to those of its past unsuccessful court motions. Specifically, lawyers argued that McDonnell had done nothing to provide Williams with anything of real value other than set up meetings and attend events.

    Defense attorney Ryan Newman said prosecutors are interpreting the law too broadly, in a way that could criminalize routine political courtesies and put other politicians at risk for prosecution.

    Bob McDonnell said Friday morning that being involved in the case was "crushing."

    "All I can say is I've had 38 years of public service [and] public life," he said. "I've given my entire professional adult life to serving the people of the United States, in the Army, serving the people of Virginia in many different jobs, so obviously this is crushing to be a defendant in in a criminal case. I know in my heart what the truth is and we'll look forward now to having our case."

    Some legal analysts and courtroom observers say in the end it may come down to who the jury believes: star prosecution witness and gift-giver Jonnie Williams, or Bob McDonnell.

    The McDonnells could face decades in prison if convicted.