On Trial: McDonnell Trial FAQ

Everything you need to know about the former governor's ongoing legal battle


Breaking: At approximately 3:00 p.m. today the former Governor was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption. The former first lady was found guilty on nine counts. This story is developing.

The story of corruption and unethical behavior from within the Virginia governor’s mansion, marring former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s reputation and initiating a highly publicized trial this year, is coming to a close. Here is a timeline of the saga’s major events:

Jan. 21: Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell are indicted on 14 counts, 11 for public corruption for illegally accepting gifts and loans from Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. — then-CEO of Star Scientific, a former cigarette-manufacturer-turned-nutritional-supplement company. The amount of money which changed hands between Williams and the McDonnell family is estimated at $165,000.

Jan. 24: Bob and Maureen McDonnell enter a not-guilty plea at a federal courthouse in Richmond. It is soon revealed that after behind-the-scenes negotiations with prosecutors, the McDonnells refused to entertain a guilty plea on felony fraud charges.

March 25: The McDonnells and their attorneys petition U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer to dismiss the corruption charges or otherwise be tried separately. Both requests are later denied.

July 29: The defense teams unveil their narratives, which center on the couple’s marital dysfunction. Maureen McDonnell cites a “crush” on Jonnie Williams and a breakdown in communication with her husband as the causes of the couple’s problems.

Aug. 1: With Williams on the stand, prosecutors attempt to prove the former governor’s involvement. Williams testifies that he had no way of knowing whether Bob McDonnell was aware of his wife’s activities.

Aug. 7: Virginia’s Health Secretary Bill Hazel testifies that Williams had inflated influence in the governor’s mansion, saying he was allowed to shape a guest list for a 2012 reception with big names in state health care. This, the prosecution states, is evidence the governor used the prestige of the office to benefit an outside party.

Aug. 11: Evidence of the McDonnells’ tanking real estate assets in Virginia Beach is revealed. The prosecution uses this to imply the Governor was in dire financial straits, leading him to accept loans from Williams.

Aug. 25: Bob McDonnell takes the stand for a day-long cross examination. He testifies he was aware Williams picked up the $15,000 catering tab for his daughter’s wedding, and said he knowingly accepted invitations for golf outings at Williams’ club. He also confirms there was tension in the couple’s marriage.

Aug. 29: Closing arguments are made. The defense insists that though the gifts and loans appear to be unethical transactions, there was no instance in which Williams explicitly received special treatment in return, framing Williams as merely trying to shield himself from an SEC probe into his prior stock infractions. The prosecution counters that the McDonnells lied on official disclosure forms and loan applications in an attempt to bury the truth about the privileges they bestowed on Williams to promote his vitamin supplements.

Sept. 2: The testimony period of the trial ends, and a five-women, seven-men jury begins deliberations.


What are the charges against the McDonnells?
The couple faces 11 counts of public corruption made public in a 43-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court. Both are charged with making false statements, and Maureen McDonnell faces an obstruction of official proceeding charge.

Who is Jonnie Williams Sr.?
Jonnie Williams is a tobacco entrepreneur from Spotsylvania, Virginia and founder of nutritional supplement company Star Scientific, Inc. His undisclosed gifts and loans to the McDonnells are the source of the corruption charges brought against the former first family. He testified to providing gifts — including wedding catering for McDonnells’ daughter Cailin, shopping sprees for Maureen and the use of his vacation home and country club — and loans as described. Williams has since resigned as CEO of Star Scientific, Inc.

What are the penalties faced by either Bob or Maureen McDonnell?
The former first couple of Virginia faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in jail and fines of more than $1 million if they are convicted of all counts.

What is the prosecution’s case?
The federal prosecutors are attempting to prove that quid-pro-quo corruption was in actuality an explicit feature of the McDonnells’ relationship with Williams, presenting evidence of the McDonnells’ promotion of vitamin supplement Anatabloc at the governor’s mansion and to state officials. Williams testified he was aware of the dubious legality of his favors toward the McDonnells, and said he went through lengths to minimize their exposure.

How have the McDonnells defended themselves?
Rather than take the plea deal, which would have placed sole blame on Bob McDonnell through a charge of felony fraud, the McDonnells elected to take the case to court. The McDonnells claimed marital problems interfered with their communication during the time period in question, allowing them to plead ignorance of one another’s actions with regard to specific details of the case. The other line of defense is to push back against the prosecution’s claims of financial woe, putting forth the family was in fine financial standing despite the falling value of their Virginia Beach rental properties. The couple would not, in that case, have needed to grant Williams favors to stay afloat.

Information obtained through The Washington Post

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