Corruption trial for former Gov. Bob McDonnell begins

Last Updated Jul 28, 2014 4:30 PM EDT

RICHMOND, Va. -- The corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife began in Richmond on Monday with jury selection.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of a dietary supplements company in exchange for helping promote his products. Their trial in federal court was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EDT Monday and is expected to last at least five weeks.

McDonnell was a rising national star in the Republican party and was considered a possible Mitt Romney running mate in 2012 before the federal investigation ruined his political future. Romney reportedly donated $10,000 to the couple's legal defense fund in April.

Before the trial's opening, federal prosecutors filed a list of 61 potential witnesses, including Maureen McDonnell and the couple's three children, Sean, Rachel and Bobby.

The defense filed a list that includes 121 potential witnesses, many of them overlapping with the prosecutors' list. Potential defense witnesses including Bob McDonnell, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell.

In court, U.S. District Judge James Spencer asked a pool of 150 potential jurors routine questions, including whether they knew or were related to any of the principals and whether they had ever worked in law enforcement. It was unclear when opening statements would be given.

Before being indicted 10 days after leaving office in January, McDonnell apologized for what he described as bad judgment and said he repaid about $120,000 in gifts and loans, but he denied breaking any laws. He and his lawyers have argued that prosecutors are trying to criminalize routine and long-accepted political courtesies, like hosting receptions and arranging meetings, that fall short of more tangible rewards historically associated with bribery.

Prosecutors have countered that the McDonnells' willingness to help former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams on "an as-needed basis" and Williams' expectation of something in return, whether he received it or not, is enough to support a conviction. If the jury agrees, the McDonnells could face decades in prison.

Williams is expected to testify under immunity as the prosecution's star witness.

According to the indictment, Williams lavished the McDonnells with designer clothes, golf outings, vacations and large loans while seeking government help promoting his company's products and securing grants for research studies. No government grants were awarded, but the indictment says the McDonnells hosted or appeared at numerous events to further the company's interests.

In May, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer tossed out a motion to dismiss most of the charges against the couple and ruled that they should be tried together instead of separately. The McDonnell's lawyers said Maureen McDonnell would have been willing to give testimony exonerating her husband at his trial if it was separate from hers, but would not testify at a joint trial because it would hamper her defense on a separate obstruction of justice charge filed solely against her.

Spencer said the defense had only offered vague statements that didn't show a compelling need for separate trials.