Friday, August 22, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Friday that there was nothing inappropriate about accepting gifts and loans from a wealthy vitamin entrepreneur who had asked nothing of him other than routine political courtesies and calling his father on his 80th birthday.
However, McDonnell acknowledged during his third day on the witness stand that he should have disclosed some of the gifts he received from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams.
McDonnell detailed some of the money he received from Williams, saying he was initially unaware that Williams sent a $50,000 check after a potential deal involving a loan of stock failed to materialize. But the cash loan was what he really wanted to plug an operating shortfall at two Virginia Beach vacation rental homes he owns with his sister, McDonnell said.
A little more than two months later, in May 2012, McDonnell texted Williams to ask for an additional $20,000 loan because the properties were still in the red. He said Williams had told him if he needed more money, he should just ask.
"I considered him to be a friend at that point," McDonnell said, explaining why he thought it was appropriate to ask for the loan.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans from Williams in exchange for promoting his company's products, particularly the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.
McDonnell testified about the night he first found out that state police were asking questions about the couple's relationship with Williams in February 2013. He said his wife had been asked to an interview with police to talk about the chef at the governor's mansion for an investigation into missing food at the residence. McDonnell said he was "darn angry" to learn from his wife that night that they were asking about stock she owned in his company, loans from him and the governor's financial disclosure statement.
"She was very nervous," McDonnell said. "She was very anxious when I talked to her that night."
Williams, testifying under immunity, said earlier in the trial that he was not friends with the McDonnells and that he spent lavishly on them and their children solely to buy their influence as he sought state-backed research for Anatabloc.
"I liked the guy," McDonnell said, adding that he wanted Star Scientific to prosper just like any other Virginia business.
McDonnell said he did not think there was anything inappropriate with either Williams' loans or pricey vacations Williams paid for, including a trip to Cape Cod. The former governor testified Thursday that he was unaware of many of the flashier gifts Williams had given to his family, including designer clothes and a Rolex watch.
McDonnell said he gave Williams no special treatment in exchange for the gifts and loans McDonnell was aware of, only typical constituent service. For example, McDonnell said there was nothing out of the ordinary about a July 31, 2011, email request Secretary of Health and Human Services Bill Hazel to send an aide to meet with Williams and Maureen McDonnell at the Executive Mansion the very next day.
"This kind of email I would have sent many, many times," McDonnell said.
The request came the same day the McDonnells returned to Richmond via Williams' Ferrari after vacationing at the businessman's Smith Mountain Lake house.
When asked by one of his attorneys if he would have taken Williams' loan if he thought it was corrupting his office, McDonnell replied: "Absolutely not."
McDonnell said he and his sister used low-interest loans instead of their own money to pay for the properties because they thought it was a smart financial move.
But the governor said he erred in not reporting two golf outings paid for by Williams and a golf bag emblazoned with the Notre Dame logo.
As governor, McDonnell was required to file a yearly disclosure of his income, debts and gifts.
"Those probably should have been reported," McDonnell said. "I take responsibility for that."
The former governor said the omissions were not intentional and that he was not trying to keep Williams' gifts hidden from the public. McDonnell did disclose another gift from Williams on those forms: the use of a vacation lake house.
McDonnell said he did not disclose a $15,000 gift from Williams to help cover the wedding costs for one of McDonnell's daughters because he wasn't required to disclose it under Virginia law. He said that gift was given directly to his daughter, not to him.
The former governor also disputed some of Williams' previous testimony. McDonnell denied telling Williams that he owned Star Scientific stock. Williams also said that after a meeting about the possible stock loan, McDonnell had told him he was wrong when he said a handshake deal is legally binding in Virginia. McDonnell denied saying that.
McDonnell also denied agreeing with Williams to keep the $50,000 loan between the two of them.
Associated Press writer Larry O'Dell contributed to this story.