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Defense of Former First Lady Maureen McDonnell Begins in Corruption Case
Summary: Maureen McDonnell, former first lady of Virginia, testified today in the trial that accuses her and her husband, former governor Bob McDonnell, of receiving more than $177,000 in exchange for supporting a pharmaceutical company.
Dailyprogress.com reports that the corruption trial of former governor Bob McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell entered its fifth week of testimony this week in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia. The defense has rested its case for the former governor after five days of testimony, and Maureen McDonnell’s attorneys are now presenting her defense. The defense could take about three hours.
The couple is accused of conspiring to sell the governor’s “honest services” in exchange for gifts from Jonnie R. Williams, CEO of the former Star Scientific, in excess of $177,000.00. In defense, the McDonnells have stated their marriage was so damaged, they could not have communicated well enough to conspire to support Anatabloc, a dietary supplement created by Star Scientific. Defense attorneys have moved to prevent the prosecution from presenting charts documenting the time the couple spent together from June to December of 2011. The testimony would be presented by an FBI agent, Kathryn Weber, and would be based upon calendars, phone records, and emails outlining the McDonnells’ schedule.
Defense attorneys for Bob McDonnell argue that the testimony is “needlessly cumulative and a waste of time.” In addition, they argue the records should have been presented during the state’s case-in-chief.
April Niamtu was the first witness put on the stand by Mrs. McDonnell’s attorneys. Niamtu had informed Heather Martin, one of McDonnell’s attorneys, that even her oldest friends misspell her name. This could be used as an explanation for former Governor McDonnell’s misspellings of Jonnie Williams’ first name in both emails and text messages, although he was known to be a friend of the governor. Under Virginia law, officials do not have to disclose gifts from personal friends.
Niamtu testified that she first met the McDonnells in 2009 when Bob McDonnell was running for governor. She and Maureen were fast friends, she recalled. Niamtu assisted Mrs. McDonnell in campaign events, encouraging her when McDonnell worried she would not “look the part.”
Niamtu traveled with McDonnell in 2011 on a trip planned for a NuSkin convention in Utah. McDonnell told Niamtu that she wanted “girlfriend time” due to the stress she was feeling from her role as first lady. McDonnell felt she had no privacy at the governor’s mansion.
When Niamtu arrived at the airport for the trip to Utah, Jonnie Williams was also present and ready to fly the women to Utah on his plane. This was when Niamtu learned that the first stop on the trip would actually be California, supposedly to drop off a researcher who planned to give a presentation on Anatabloc, a drug developed by Star Scientific. Shirley Forbes, the wife of Representative J. Randy Forbes, was also on the flight. Niamtu observed that McDonnell and Williams seemed like “best buddies.”
Once the party arrived in California, Williams paid for their stay and dinner. The following day, Niamtu and McDonnell attended the Anatabloc presentation. Hundreds were in attendance. According to Niamtu, Williams shocked McDonnell by asking her to speak briefly at the event. McDonnell looked like “a deer in headlights,” Niamtu remembered. Niamtu added that McDonnell hated public speaking. Heather Martin introduced a video into evidence at that point, showing the introduction of McDonnell at the event.
During cross-examination by Jessica Aber, Niamtu stated she did not know that McDonnell had attended other Anatabloc events in Flint, Michigan and in Richmond in October. In Flint, McDonnell was a featured speaker.
Niamtu also testified that she knew McDonnell and Diane Cantor, the wife of former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would often text each other at 2 and 3 in the morning—emphasizing that this meant their husbands were not in bed with them. This statement supported the lack of communication the McDonnells claim they suffered in their marriage.
The McDonnells’ oldest daughter, Jeanine, admitted that her parents were not perfect. She testified that frugality was a central theme of the family, and that after her father was elected to the General Assembly in the 1990s, her mother was often lonely. Jeanine added that her mother would take long baths, watch soap operas, and have a few drinks. “I think she was depressed,” she said.
Photo credit: usatoday.comCorruption Trial Continues with Defense of Former First Lady Maureen McDonnell by Noelle Price