We are now two weeks into the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife. The United States alleges that the McDonnells traded official acts in exchange for cash, gifts, a Rolex and a borrowed Ferrari. The McDonnells are charged with taking things from Jonnie Williams, a businessman who was pushing a tobacco-based cure-all pill. Williams was desperate to bring credibility to the product (no wonder). Prosecutors allege that he turned to the McDonnells to leverage the offices of state government to give him that credibility. Three curious defenses have emerged in the trial.
1. Don’t trust the prosecution’s star witness, even though we did.
The central problem for the McDonnell defense is that they don’t want the jury to take Jonnie Williams seriously even though the Governor and his wife took him plenty seriously when he was passing out gifts and cash. When the Governor wanted Williams to get an appointment with another state official, Williams got it. When Williams wanted the Governor’s mansion to be used for an event related to the product, he got it. Will a jury buy the argument that Williams shouldn’t be taken seriously when the Governor and his wife seemed to take him more seriously than nearly every other Virginian?
2. We weren’t really giving Williams favors, we were just tricking him to think we were.
A strange defense emerged yesterday at trial. It goes like this: Sure, the Governor arranged all sorts of meetings and access for Williams after receiving gifts and cash, but nothing really came of any of them. One staffer characterized her efforts as a “blowoff email” after a leading question from McDonnell’s lawyer. Really? This defense may be worse than the charges. It’s another way of saying, sure, we received all sorts of money and gifts from Williams, but the most we did is trick him into thinking we were doing something to help him. This is the worst kind of constituent services!
3. She loved him.
The most bizarre defense so far is that Maureen McDonnell had a crush on Jonnie Williams. To help with the visuals, the McDonnells stopped coming to the courthouse together once the jury was in the house. How does this help keep McDonnell out of federal prison? If Maureen was doing it all for love, and not a corrupt motive, then none of the unsavory acts flow to the Governor, and the First Lady might not be subject to the corruption charge because she is not a state official. It’s the cuckold defense. Any port in a storm I suppose. The problem with the defense is that there are plenty of interactions between McDonnell and Williams outlining the contours of their scheme, including a famous plane ride together to California. Go to Defense #1, above, to see how the defense solves that problem.