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Trial reveals governor's wife had 'crush' on CEO

By Larry O'Dell and Alan Suderman

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The corruption trial for ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife plunged Tuesday into the sordid details of the couple's marriage and the former first's lady's "crush" on a businessman accused of lavishing them with gifts and cash in exchange for promoting his company.

The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in loans, designer clothes, vacations and a Rolex watch from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific. If convicted, they could face decades in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said during opening statements that McDonnell and his wife betrayed the public's trust by lining their pockets with "secret gifts and cash." McDonnell, a once-rising star in the Republican party who left office in January, had a duty "not to sell the power and influence of his office to the highest bidder," Aber said.

"Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell knew what Mr. Williams wanted and gave it to him," she said.

Witness List Released in McDonnell Corruption Trial

Attorneys for the McDonnells told jurors the governor did what any of his predecessors would do for a Virginia-based company. They questioned Williams' character and said the couple couldn't have been scheming together because their marriage was falling apart.

Maureen McDonnell's lawyer, William A. Burck, said the former first lady was "duped" by Williams into thinking he cared for her. Williams filled a "void" in her life, and she and her husband were pretending to be a happy couple although their marriage had "broken down" long ago, Burck said.

"They were barely on speaking terms," Burck said.

A lawyer for the former governor said Bob McDonnell will testify on his own behalf and will read an email in which he begged his wife to work things out with him.

"It fell upon blind eyes and deaf ears because that evening, Maureen was distracted by other interests," defense attorney John Brownlee said.

Brownlee said the government went to great lengths looking for people to say bad things about his client, even sending investigators to interview former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, and "came up empty." McDonnell was widely mentioned as a possible Romney running mate in 2012.

Brownlee said the long hours Bob McDonnell spent at work fueled Maureen McDonnell's anger and resentment.

"She hated him for not being around, for serving the public night and day and not having anything left for her," Brownlee said, adding that the void allowed an outsider to "invade and poison their marriage."

The McDonnells arrived separately at federal court over the past two days, a sharp contrast to the united front they showed when they were indicted 10 days after he left office in January. Before the trial, they often held hands in the courthouse.

The McDonnells' attorneys sought to have them tried separately, but the judge refused. The former first lady's attorneys have suggested that she was not an elected or paid official and therefore not tied to the same scrutiny as her husband.

Burck said Williams and Maureen frequently exchanged text messages and phone calls, and that Williams often visited the Executive Mansion. Burck said the pair had a relationship that "some people would consider inappropriate" and that one potential witness may describe Williams as Maureen McDonnell's "favorite playmate." He did not indicate that their relationship was physical.

Joseph E. diGenova, a former federal prosecutor not affiliated with the case, said the defense team is airing details of the couple's troubled marriage as a way "to create some sympathy" and show that Bob McDonnell could have been unaware of the dealings between Maureen McDonnell and Williams.

The strategy could backfire, he said.

"There's always a risk the jury will think it's a ploy," diGenova said.

Aber, the prosecutor, told the jury that the luxury gifts and frequent text messaging between Williams and Maureen McDonnell were "always just a business relationship and nothing more."

She showed the jury a photo of Bob McDonnell, smiling broadly and wearing sunglasses, driving Williams' Ferrari during a vacation at Williams' lake house.

Legal experts have said one of the key questions for the jury will be whether McDonnell believed it was criminal to accept the gifts while supporting Williams' efforts to grow a Virginia business. The former governor is accused of setting up a meeting between Williams and a state health official, hosting a product launch reception at the Executive Mansion and attending a dinner and seminar aimed at persuading doctors to recommend a Star Scientific product.

Brownlee said McDonnell, whose campaign slogan was "Bob's for Jobs," spoke favorably of all Virginia businesses.

"Bob McDonnell eats Virginia ham, he drinks Virginia wine, and my guess is if he smoked he'd smoke Virginia cigarettes," Brownlee said.

Brownlee attacked Williams' credibility, calling him a "master manipulator" who deceived the McDonnells and the government to receive immunity. Williams may have illegally sold $10 million worth of Star Scientific shares to a friend in secret, according to Burck.

Join the discussion

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moudsie July 29 2014 at 3:42 PM

Ah, another "fine,upstanding, family values,Christian GOP pol." Bet we don't see this on Faux News.

Flag Reply +23 rate up
5 replies
henryusmale July 29 2014 at 5:09 PM

Just another fine example of the republican party.

Its all about me attitude.
Just more about the privileged wanting more privileges.

Greedy bastards.

Flag Reply +16 rate up
3 replies
clwgeorgetownlaw July 29 2014 at 2:48 PM

Obviously Obama's fault ---

Flag Reply +15 rate up
3 replies
s July 29 2014 at 4:57 PM

LOL Christians.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
3 replies
chuckm8509 July 29 2014 at 3:44 PM

Of course this is making "news"...if the guy had been a Democrat the story would have been buried until the 22nd century.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
8 replies
bjohn163 July 29 2014 at 3:00 PM

The wife matches the husband politician. They are both ******.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
2 replies
faturism bjohn163 July 29 2014 at 7:27 PM

You know them personally?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
richie3gs bjohn163 July 29 2014 at 10:37 PM

yep they are PIGS

Flag Reply 0 rate up
davidmapp7 July 29 2014 at 4:38 PM

key phrase= 'a once rising star in the Republican party" ..the only parties they will know soon ? everybody will be dressed in orange uniforms..

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
draeger24 davidmapp7 July 30 2014 at 7:22 AM

LOL...the only ones who should be in orange uniforms are your lord and savioutrs, the Obuggers and the Clintons...

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
dgoffnspector draeger24 July 30 2014 at 3:36 PM

And what criminal activity, in detail, do you have evidence that they are guilty of? Reply at length, with verifiable sources, please.

Flag 0 rate up
Hi July 29 2014 at 3:25 PM

The Governor may not have known all that was going on. He has always been a decent man who may have been doing his job while his wife was messing him up big time, Happens.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
10 replies
m2ca2njohn July 29 2014 at 3:49 PM

" Williams also fooled the Department of Justice and has received immunity from a $10 million stock fraud investigation in exchange for testifying against the McDonnells."
"The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans "
I think they're chasing the wrong felon

Flag Reply +5 rate up
3 replies
Michael July 29 2014 at 4:47 PM

Great to see the republican party crashing and burning in Virginia......I guess "Virginia" really "is for lovers", of course only if you are straight! Who knew it would be the governor's wife ! ! !

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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