Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell faces questions about his friendship with CEO

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell faced sharp questions Monday from prosecutors about details of his personal finances at his public corruption trial.

As the trial entered its fifth week, prosecutors began their cross-examination of McDonnell. He and his wife, Maureen, are charged with providing special favors to a wealthy businessman, former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans while McDonnell was in office.

The pointed questions prompted long pauses and lengthy explanations from McDonnell, who was admonished by the judge to just "answer the question" when he tried to offer a detailed response of why he disagreed with a question that implied that a joint real-estate venture he owned with his sister was in financial trouble.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry showed the governor an email sent by his sister, which read, "We are in trouble and need to act NOW," the Washington Post reported. Dry also showed the governor an email from wife, complaining of "unconscionable" credit card debt. McDonnell told the prosecutor that both women were exaggerating.

The money issues are key because prosecutors have said McDonnell's financial desperation is what prompted him to accept cash and gifts from Williams. McDonnell says he considered Williams a friend and that he had been making steady progress in reducing his family's debt even without Williams' help.

Dry asked McDonnell about a series of emails from staffers in which they speculated that Maureen McDonnell was drawn to Williams because "he's loaded." McDonnell, after initially demurring, said he didn't believe his wife was drawn to Williams for his money.

"Money? That wasn't the reason for friendship, no," McDonnell said. But asked whether his wife had a long history of making inappropriate financial requests of friends and family, McDonnell agreed.

Maureen McDonnell's defense attorney bolstered the notion that Jonnie Williams and the former governor had a strong friendship independent of Maureen. He showed a series of friendly text messages between McDonnell and Williams discussing the supplement business, planning trips together, and reminiscing about golf outings together. He also tried to indicate that the former governor wanted his wife to sell stock in Williams' company or transfer it to the children to protect himself from reporting requirements. At the end of the cross examination, McDonnell was asked directly if he and his wife ever discussed helping Williams in exchange for gifts and loans given to the family. He said no.

During three days on the stand in direct examination, McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge about some of the gifts, saying he did not learn about them until after the fact or that they had been arranged by his wife.

For example, McDonnell said he did not know at the time that Williams spent $20,000 on designer clothing for Maureen McDonnell on a Manhattan shopping spree. Dry asked McDonnell if he was testifying that, despite his knowledge of his wife's inappropriate financial requests and Williams' lavish spending on other occasions, it never occurred to him that Williams might pick up the tab.

"That's exactly what I'm testifying to, yes," McDonnell said.

Bob McDonnell also acknowledged that he had dealt with his wife's angry outbursts for years and didn't do enough to help staffers cope. Eventually, he said, Maureen McDonnell agreed to counseling and medication.

He said he did not think his wife's anger directed at him was warranted and called her grievances overblown.

"They were always about little things," he testified.

He said his wife rejected marital counseling because she was afraid it would become public.

The state of the McDonnells' marriage has been another big issue at trial; the defense has suggested they could not have conspired in a gifts-for-favors scheme because they were barely talking to each other.

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