RICHMOND – Attorneys made their final arguments Friday in the case against Bob and Maureen McDonnell, leaving it to a federal jury to decide the former first couple’s fate.
Deliberations should begin Tuesday morning, after the holiday weekend and after Judge James R. Spencer charges jurors with the lengthy set of instructions they are to follow as they apply federal law to five weeks of testimony.
Friday was the last chance to sum up, cajole, poke holes, explain and call for justice. Henry Asbill, lead counsel for the former governor, spent some of his time explaining the defense’s unorthodox strategy, which involved a dark journey into the broken places of the McDonnell marriage.
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There was no bribery conspiracy, Asbill said, and the lack of communication between the couple proves it. There was no choice but air the McDonnell’s problems in the face of an over-bearing prosecution that means to put an honest man in prison, Asbill said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry called the McDonnells’ broken marriage a sad and selfish maneuver. He harkened back to the McDonnell campaign bumper sticker mentioned dozens of times in this trial: “It shouldn’t have been ‘Bob’s for Jobs,’” Dry said. “It should have been ‘Bob’s for Bob.’”
Bob McDonnell’s case – his claims of ignorance and coincidence – don’t hold up under the light of common sense, Dry and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney David Harbach argued Friday.
To be sure, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. didn’t get everything he wanted from state government, despite giving the governor and his family more than $177,000 in gifts and loans. There wasn’t an explicit agreement — no “You do this, and I’ll do that,” Dry and Harbach said.
But even if the McDonnells did nothing for Williams beyond the things they did for other Virginia companies, they still did something illegal, Dry said.
Because they got paid to do it, he said. Not with campaign donations, but through low-interest loans and expensive gifts, some declared on required annual disclosures, some not. And when Williams didn’t get what he wanted, that was because other state officials looked at him with a wary eye, prosecutors said.
Asbill said there are major holes in the prosecution’s case. According to the governor, Williams never asked McDonnell for anything specific other than a congratulatory 80th birthday call for his father. If McDonnell had conspired to sell his office for the loans and gifts Williams provided, he was in a position to do far more than the government charges, Asbill said.
He could have squeezed something into the budget, or pulled a grant from one of the funds he controls, Asbill said.
The alleged plot to push for clinical trials into Anatabloc, a supplement from Williams’ company, Star Scientific, doesn’t make much of a conspiracy since the trials never happened, Asbill said.
Nor did Williams get funding from the state tobacco commission, which the governor may sway, but does not control.
“Bribery requires both a quid and a quo,” Asbill said. “Bob never gave anything special. ... You can't find Bob guilty for taking gifts. This is a bribery case, not an election.”
Asbill called Williams a liar Friday, and Williams himself acknowledged as much on the stand in this trial. He said he was lying when he initially told investigators that he didn’t get anything of value from the governor and didn’t ask for anything, either.
He got immunity for his testimony against the McDonnells not just in this case, but for questionable stock deals investigators were initially interested in. He’s also a defendant in a pending civil suit brought by Star Scientific shareholders.
Asbill said Williams changed his story to suit the government’s needs, conning them like he has so many other people. His unwillingness to wear a wire and record McDonnell – something that came out earlier in the trial – shows that Williams was only handing all-too-willing investigators a bigger fish to fry.
“Why didn’t he wear the wire? Because Jonnie had zero doubt … there would be nothing to record,” Asbill said.
Why Williams gave so much money and go so little in return, we may never know, Asbill said. Perhaps he simply wanted to brag about knowing the governor, or show his wealth off to the first family, Asbill said.
The prosecution dismissed this as desperate hogwash. Williams got to help set guest lists for events at the governor’s mansion, inviting doctors and state university researchers. After one of event, Williams “was on cloud nine,” in the words of a colleague, former Star Scientific board chairman Paul Perito.