Did McDonnell Prosecutors Knowingly Use Tainted Testimony?

mcdonnellPublished this morning in the Roanoke Times:By Paul Goldman, James Bacon and Mark J. Rozell

Did Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sanction using tainted trial testimony against Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell? In closing argument, the prosecution said jurors could “discount everything, every single word uttered by” Star Scientific founder Jonnie R. Williams and still find the McDonnells guilty of public corruption. Yet Williams had been the government’s chief witness and sole accuser. He spent nearly a week on the witness stand. Determining “who is most believable about the interactions between the governor and Williams” had been called the key to the case.

The Virginia native had appeared on Uncle Sam’s scam radar since the 1980s, after the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated false claims by an earlier Williams company. When Williams met Gov. McDonnell, he hawked “Anatabloc,” a nutritional supplement based on a curative “discovery” touted as more important than penicillin. The indictment charged Williams had given $138,804 in gifts and loans in exchange for the governor’s agreement to help Star promote the product.

Williams initially defended the First Couple but testified against them pursuant to a rare immunity deal shielding him from prosecution for crimes not related to the McDonnell case. Prosecutors promised jurors he would be completely truthful.

Indictment paragraph 28 remained key to the government’s corruption conspiracy timeline:

“Before agreeing to provide the requested financial assistance to the defendants, JW [Jonnie Williams] spoke directly with ROBERT MCDONNELL about the $50,000 loan . . . ROBERT MCDONNELL informed JW that the rental income from the defendants’ rental property in Virginia Beach was not covering the bills for those properties. JW agreed to provide the $50,000 loan . . . .”

Prosecutors conceded Maureen McDonnell had personally asked Williams for the loan on May 2, 2011. She promised to reciprocate by helping Star. Williams testified understanding she spoke solely for herself, not her husband. Virginia’s first lady is not a public official under federal anti-corruption laws. While disgraceful, this two-way deal did not break the law.

The Star pitchman personally delivered a $50,000 check payable to her on May 23 when they met at the Executive Mansion. Gov. McDonnell swore he didn’t learn about the check until two weeks afterwards. The prosecution self-evidentially believed it crucial to show his knowledge prior to her accepting the money.

During testimony, Williams said he couldn’t remember when he spoke to the governor, or even whether he had spoken by telephone or in person. But he remained adamant, saying, “I am not writing his wife any checks without him knowing about it.”

The prosecution trumpeted this “evidence,” declaring, “What does this tell you about who the loan was really to?”

But his testimony crumbled. During cross-examination, defense counsel asked Williams:

Question: “Before those checks were cut, between the 2nd of May and the 23rd of May, you never talked to Bob McDonnell about those checks, did you?”

Answer: “No.”

He then insisted the conversation occurred while delivering the checks on May 23.

Prosecutors proffered no corroborating phone record or eyewitness account. Furthermore, while Williams claimed the governor said he needed the money to keep his Virginia Beach rental properties afloat, Maureen McDonnell put the $50,000 in her account and used most of the sum to purchase Star Scientific stock, not to cover beach property expenses.

In closing argument, the prosecution told jurors, “Who cares?” whether Williams might have lied since the government had “more evidence than necessary” to convict. Read more.

Goldman is a Richmond lawyer and Democratic Party activist. Bacon publishes the Bacons Rebellion blog covering public policy issues in Virginia. Rozell is Acting Dean of the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University.

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13 responses to “Did McDonnell Prosecutors Knowingly Use Tainted Testimony?”

  1. This op-ed started out considerably longer, but Goldman, Rozell and I could not get it published without chopping it down to 750-word op-ed length. There is abundant documentation to support our assertions here.

    A review of the transcripts of Williams’ testimony on the key point — when and where Williams met with McDonnell and what was said — is astonishing. Williams changed his testimony even within the trial itself. The reason, I am convinced, that prosecutor Michael Dry made the extraordinary statement in closing arguments that he did — his star witness’ testimony could be ignored and there was still evidence to convict — is that Williams’ testimony on this central point was so vague, indeed, almost incoherent, as to raise serious doubts about its truthfulness.

    The question then becomes what did the prosecution have reason to believe about Williams’ truthfulness before they put him on the stand? He’d made significant changes to his broader narrative at least twice before trial. Did they make any effort to vet his testimony on this critical point? Did he hem and haw under questioning like he would on the witness stand? Did prosecutors entertain any reservations about whether Williams’ alleged meeting with McDonnell occurred before (as maintained in the indictment) or while (as he admitted on the witness stand) handing over the checks to Mrs. McDonnell? Did they have any questions about the plausibility of Williams’ assertion that McDonnell said he needed the money for his underwater real estate investment yet he wrote the check to Mrs. McDonnell who used almost all of the money to buy Star Scientific stock?

    Despite all the warning bells, prosecutors decided to put Williams on the witness stand. Is that the way we want the U.S. Justice Department doing business — indicting governors of the opposing political party on the basis of dubious testimony?

  2. so how come the McDonnells are not in jail awaiting sentencing like most convicted are?

    I think when you look at the preponderance of the acts committed by the Gov and his wife – knitpicking one out of many, proves what?

    Maybe we should have the Innocence Project look into the McDonnell’s case?


    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, it takes proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not a preponderance of the evidence, to convict. I’m not arguing innocence or guilt, but rather stating the standard of constitutional law.

      1. TMT – yup… I know… but the Holder connection is just plain foolish.

        There is no question that Williams was/is a huckster and a habitual liar. The bigger question is why McDonnell and his wife were consorting with him and why should we care if Williams lied again and the GOP-appointed judge, and 20-some member defense team stood by and did nothing to point it out to the jury?

        The “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” – was the fact that Williams had a series of personal contacts with the Gov and his wife that included money, a watch, a car, a summer home, a wedding, golfing, and expensive clothes.

        All of the above was true.. a fact.. proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a corruption was ongoing…

        but why are these guys now going back to dredge this up again?

        is this going to be the basis of an appeal – that Williams lied on the stand, the Prosecutor knew it but did nothing and the defense team and Judge and jury missed it – and it’s Holder’s fault?


        I think the folks that wrote the article – no disrespect intended got more words than they deserved. I think they deserved one paragraph.. and that’s it and even that paragraph is lame …

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Holder has considerable ethics problems of his own, both in office (Fast and Furious) and out, Fannie Mae. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/20/us-usa-holder-mortgage-idUSTRE80J0PH20120120 He is also extremely partisan, not that he is alone. Holder should have appointed a special prosecutor from the career service and recused himself. The same should hold true with a GOP AG and a Democratic elected official. A lawyer should not only avoid conflicts, but also the appearance of them.

          Having said this, the McDonnells may be guilty as sin. We’ll see what the court of appeals does.

          1. TMT – wasn’t Fast & Furious a Bush operation?

            you should GOOGLE : Gunwalking Scandal and please make sure you include ALL the folks involved in it from the beginning – not just Holder as the GOP has alleged.

            The GOP made Fast and Furious partisan.. not Holder.

            In terms of Partisan – do you remember this:


            You think Holder is more partisan that the Bush AGs Ashcroft and Gonzales?

            really? I think not.

            we seem to have short memories here.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Is this all you have Jim? Whether or jot Bob McDonnell had a direct conversation about one $50,000 check before WIlliams stroked it. Funny, but I covered the trial and I seem to remember testimony that McDonnell had conservations with Williams before the money was transferred involving other loans.In your example, you are saying that Williams gave contradictory evidence about the first loan? Geeze-Louise!

    I also fail to see the strong link between Holder and the voluminous evidence the prosecution had in this case. Are you suggesting that Eric Holder should have been the final arbiter on what evidence was used or not?

    Gee how many federal cases are there on any given work day?

    As far as complaining about the word count on a newspaper oped page, shame on you. You ought to know better than that!

    Paul Goldman was at the trial as a commentator for a news outlet. I seem to recall some of his columns arguing that the McDonnell case would collapse and Holder would be forced to resign. Someone apparently forgot to inform the jury.

    1. The Holder stuff is just stupid. The Judge in the trial was appointed by the GOP and McDonnell had a 20-person defense “team”?

      give me a break.

      We have a Gov and his wife playing patti-cake with a known huckster and habitual liar and they act like they had no idea what was going on?

      Both of them should be convicted of gross stupidity if nothing else …

      and I ask again – why are they not already in jail like most convicted felons are – before sentencing?

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I hate to say this, but you might want to check your facts. I don’t have time to look this up but I will later. Somehow, I remember that Maureen solicited the first $50,000 loan from Williams. About a year or so later, Bob solicited Williams about another loan. The first loan was to help cover credit card and other debt. I believe the second was directly related to MoBo( which Bob ran with sister Maureen) and the resort property rentals falling short.

    If this is the case, it kinda of deflates the argument.

    1. You’re right, there was a second loan, and Williams and McDonnell did talk at that time. If you want to argue there was a conspiracy, that’s when it began. Unfortunately, almost all of the favors done for Williams were done *before* then. After the second loan, McDonnell stopped doing any favors at all, except for setting up one meeting, which went nowhere. Kind of ironic. That’s why the first alleged meeting was so critical to the prosecution. Without that first meeting, 4/5 of the case falls apart.

  5. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    Welcome to the criminal justice system – prosecutors railroad defendants all the time. It’s actually part of what perpetuates the cycles of poverty in this country – hard to accumulate wealth when you don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer who can keep you out of prison so you can accumulate wealth.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I do not see the difference

    1. If making Holder the bad guy in this is the appeal strategy…I see orange jumpsuits in the McDonnells future – sooner rather than later…

      At this point, I suspect the McDonnells would send their own parents to jail rather than go themselves.

      Sic Semper Weasels

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