RICHMOND, Va. – Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday faced the most pointed questions yet about his dealings with a businessman whose gifts are at the heart of the ex-governor's corruption trial.
Prosecutors asked McDonnell about a series of emails and notes in February 2012 in which McDonnell was trying to finalize a $50,000 loan from businessman Jonnie Williams. While that was going on, McDonnell and his wife prodded state officials about doing research to help Williams' dietary supplement, Anatabloc.
In one sequence, jurors saw emails six minutes apart. McDonnell asked Williams about documents to finalize the loan, and then told his staffer to "see me about anatabloc issues" at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia.
McDonnell responded forcefully when questioned about the emails.
"We don't make decisions based on money. No sir," McDonnell said. The most he did for Williams, he said, was try to get in him touch with the proper people who could evaluate his request.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for promoting his company's tobacco-based supplement.
McDonnell said his email to his staffer and lawyer, Jason Eige, was "to ask him to get a phone call returned, which I've done thousands of times. It's basic constituent service."
Jurors also saw an email that Maureen McDonnell sent to Eige earlier that month in which she wrote "Gov wants to know why nothing has developed w/ studies."
Under the timeline developed by prosecutors, Maureen McDonnell sent the email while she and the governor were riding in a car together to a political event.
Bob McDonnell said he was not pressing for information on the studies, and he didn't know why his wife said as much in an email. Prosecutor Michael Dry responded with incredulity.
"Your wife was misleading one of your most trusted advisers?" Dry said.
"I don't know. I'm saying that is not true," McDonnell said.
Prosecutors also questioned McDonnell closely on the status of his friendship with Williams. Prosecutors allege that Williams was not so much a personal friend to McDonnell as he was a source of cash to the McDonnells, who carried large personal debts. They pointed out numerous documents and emails in which McDonnell routinely misspelled Williams' first name.
"Is it your testimony that your personal friends, that you don't know how to spell their names?" Dry said.
"I misspelled his name, yes sir," McDonnell replied. "I've misspelled other people's names."