Several staffers from former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration testified in his public corruption trial Tuesday about their familiarity with businessman Jonnie Williams and his showy style, Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey reported.
Jason Eige, the governor's senior policy advisor, testified he was wary of Williams and warned McDonnell about him even before McDonnell took office. When first lady Maureen McDonnell wanted to acccept a pricy designer inaugural gown from Williams, Eige said no.
In August 2011, when Eige found out Williams' company, Star Scientific, was hoping to do a product launch of its supplement anatabloc at the governor's mansion, he nixed that, too. Eige testified he didn't think it was appropriate use of state property.
Former McDonnell scheduler Monica Block said Tuesday that Maureen McDonnell had a "blind spot" when it came to Williams, but she didn't see romance between them.
#McDonnell scheduler says First Lady had a "blind spot" when it came to Jonnie Williams but she didn't see romance pic.twitter.com/S7PSo7EKx7 — Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) August 5, 2014
Block first took the stand Monday, testifying about events the former first couple attended with Williams. Among them was one in Richmond that was a last-minute addition to McDonnell's schedule while the General Assembly was in session, which Block said was unusual.
Block returned to the stand Tuesday for cross-examination by defense lawyers.
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McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for their help promoting his company's products.
Block testified Tuesday that Williams was viewed as an important supporter, especially because he owned a plane and could be called upon for transportation.
She once wrote in an email, "As you know he is an awesome supporter and has saved our butts numerous times with his plane."
She also handled several emails that involved Williams' requests to meet with the governor and Virginia Health Secretary William Hazel. She testified that she sometimes declined Williams' request for meetings, something she called "saying no with a smile."
On cross-examination, Block was asked about an email exchange about Williams with one of the governor's aides, Adam Zubowsky.
In the exchange, Zubowsky used the code 102 to refer to Maureen McDonnell, and wrote: "102 loves Jonnie."
Block asked, "Why does 102 like him? Because he's loaded?"
Defense attorneys quizzed Block more closely about what she meant, and she replied, "Who doesn't like a friend with a lot of money?"
Block testified that although she tried to schedule private dinners for the McDonnells, it was difficult, and she usually only succeeded on birthdays.
Block viewed Williams as "over the top." The defense attorney asked her, "Did you ever say Mrs. McDonnell had a blind spot when it came to Jonnie Wiliams?"
Block replied, "I might have said that." But she also testified that she never saw any sign that Maureen McDonnell was romantically intersted in Williams, as the McDonnells' defense lawyers have claimed.
The second witness to testify Tuesday was former Virginia health official Mollie Huffstetler, who had been tasked with attending a meeting at the governor's mansion with Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams on Aug. 1, 2011.
That meeting occured the day after the McDonnells' had vacationed at Williams' Smith Mountain Lake home. The Ferrari they drove back was still sitting in the driveway of the governor's mansion when Huffstetler arrived for the meeting.
Williams had already met once with Health Secretary William Hazel, and when this follow-up meeting was requested, staffers jokingly referred to Wiliams as "Tic-Tac man" because of the supplement samples he'd left behind the first time.
An email seeking the meeting described it as a "governor's request," but Huffstetler wrote, "I'm not planning to commit to anything. We'll just do what we can to carry out the desires of the Governor and First Lady."
Huffstetler met with Wiliams for about an hour. She says he did most of the talking, describing Star Scientific's new dietary supplement Anatabloc and his hopes for it.
Several hours afters the meeting, Huffstetler wrote what defense attorneys described as a polite "blow-off" email, thanking Williams for the meeting and the information. In cross-examination, defense attorneys demonstrated that Huffstetler did not feel any pressure from either of the McDonnells to follow up with Williams.
"Did you think of the meeting as a big deal or just doing your job?" asked Bob McDonnell's defense attorney Henry Asbill.
"Just doing my job," Huffstetler replied.
My question for Bob McDonnell as he arrives today: how eager are you to testify? McDonnell: Very. @nbcwashington pic.twitter.com/mObPvrxl2A — Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) August 5, 2014
Jonnie Williams' Testimony
Williams testified under immunity as the prosecution's star witness, starting late last Wednesday and finishing Monday.
During Williams' testimony Monday, Bob McDonnell's lawyer, Henry Asbill, continued to call into question whether Williams was telling the truth about his dealings with the governor.
One focus: The $50,000 check written from Williams to Mobo Realty in March 2012.
Williams had testified that during a meeting with McDonnell in the Patrick Henry Building, the governor wanted to avoid any paper trail, and they discussed the possibility of providing access to money through a stock transfer arrangement.
Said Williams: "I said I'd just as soon keep this between us and do this with a handshake... I said I have disclosures issues and he said I have my own."
But Asbill challenged whether Williams was being truthful, pointing out that right after the meeting, the governor contacted his stockbroker.
"Obviously my client brought the stockbroker into the mix," said Asbill.
"He did bring the stockbroker in," agreed Williams. He said he ultimately decided to simply write a check. "I said, 'This is too much trouble. It's easier to write you a check.'"
A photo of McDonnell holding up a gifted Rolex watch also came into play again Monday.
Williams testified that the governor texted the photo to him at Christmas 2012, and that the text was an acknowledgment that Bob McDonnell knew Williams had purchased the watch for Maureen McDonnell to give to her husband.
But Asbill also poked holes in that testimony, calling up Williams' phone records that show no texts from Bob McDonnell the night Williams said he received the photo.
Asbill concluded his cross examination with a jab at Williams. Speaking over the prosecutor's objection and the judge sustaining the objection, he said, "What you did wrong was to misjudge [Bob McDonnell's] integrity. What he did wrong was to misjudge you."
Williams also testified that he never had any physical relationship with Maureen McDonnell and never witnessed or heard from the first lady about any tension between the McDonnells.
To further make the point, the prosecution showed two photos of the McDonnells at public events. They were holding hands in one, and Bob McDonnell was kissing his wife on the cheek in the other.
"I didn't know Mrs. McDonnell had any interest in me until this past week," he said. He added that she never expressed any romantic interest.
Following Williams’ testimony, one of Bob McDonnell's former advisers testified he was on the campaign trail with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when Maureen McDonnell tried to push Anatabloc on Ann Romney, suggesting it could help her multiple sclerosis.
"I was horrified," Phil Cox said. “It was a train wreck."
Cox said he cut off the conversation.
He also testified he faced Maureen McDonnell's wrath in 2009. When he found out Jonnie Williams wanted to buy her an Oscar de la Renta dress for the inauguration. He nixed the idea and she sent him a scathing email on Christmas Eve.
"It was an insane rant of an email,” Cox said. “Coming on Christmas Eve, it made me angry."
Last week, Williams testified that he and the McDonnells had had a business relationship and were not personal friends. Defense attorneys sought to contradict that claim by noting that Williams and Maureen McDonnell exchanged more than 1,200 text messages and phone calls in less than two years. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry put that number in context, though, by mentioning Monday that during the same period Williams made or received about 109,000 calls and texts.
Maureen McDonnell's attorney said in opening statements that the first lady of Virginia developed a "crush" on Williams and was conned into believing he cared for her. Williams testified there was no romantic relationship.
He said Maureen McDonnell requested many of the gifts -- including a $20,000 shopping spree for designer clothes in Manhattan and the Rolex watch for her husband -- as well as a $50,000 to bail the couple out of financial trouble. Williams said Bob McDonnell asked for an additional $20,000 loan later.
Williams also detailed many of the events the McDonnells attended to promote his company's signature product, Anatabloc.
The McDonnells could face decades in prison if convicted.