RICHMOND – The government’s key witness against Bob and Maureen McDonnell had trouble recalling specific conversations with federal investigators during his testimony Friday, as the defense picked away at his credibility.
At one point, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. said he couldn't recall conversations from a trial-preparation meeting with government attorneys last Sunday, which were summarized in the prosecution’s hand-written notes.
Attorneys for the former governor and his wife also worked to show that Williams and Maureen McDonnell were more than just business associates. The two traded 1,200 texts or phone calls from April 2011 to February 2013, attorneys said, and once texted 52 times in a single day.
Then there was an email from Maureen McDonnell, sent just after an earthquake hit Richmond in August 2011.
“I just felt the EARTH MOVE AND I WASN'T HAVING SEX!!!!” she told Williams.
Williams dubbed the message “funny,” but said he didn't remember it. He also denied trading text messages with the first lady between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. in May of that year, though phone records handed to him in the witness box apparently document the conversations.
“I think this is incorrect,” said Williams, who is married with children. “I don't do this.”
Williams is the star witness against the McDonnells as federal prosecutors work to convict them of taking money and gifts from him in return for promoting Anatabloc, a high-priority supplement for Star Scientific, where Williams used to be CEO. He remains a majority owner.
Williams has said repeatedly during his three days on the stand that he considered the McDonnells a means to an end. Defense attorneys have suggested a romantic relationship between Williams and Maureen McDonnell, and said the McDonnells were barely on speaking terms during the months they're accused of conspiring to extract cash and gifts from the wealthy businessman.
The McDonnells have separate legal teams, and attorneys for both walked Williams through a series of meetings and conversations Friday that he had with the McDonnells in the last several years. They also went date-by-date through conversations he had with federal investigators, with whom he’s cooperating under an immunity deal.
Williams was still on the stand as court wrapped up, and he’ll continue testifying Monday.
Henry Asbill, one of Bob McDonnell’s lead attorneys, repeatedly confirmed had Williams confirm that he met with Maureen McDonnell and others in the McDonnell administration without the governor present. He noted that the governor attended one of Williams’ product events, and set a meeting for him with Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel before the cash started rolling in.
At that point, Williams testified, he’d let the governor borrow his private jet, but hadn’t written the two $50,000 loan checks he’d eventually give the first family, or taken the first lady on a $20,000 shopping spree in New York City.
Williams said “I don’t recall that” repeatedly Friday as he was asked about meetings with federal investigators and prosecutors. He said there were simply too many meetings for him to remember what he said when.
He didn’t have nearly as much trouble remembering the details of specific conversations with the McDonnells earlier this week, when the prosecution walked him through those dates.
He did acknowledge lying to investigators at first, telling them the McDonnells didn't want anything in return for his gifts. He said he's being truthful now, and that the McDonnell’s support was “absolutely” linked to the gifts.
Williams also revealed Friday that, during an initial interview with investigators, a federal agent asked him to wear a wire and secretly record meetings with the governor.
“I stopped the meeting right then,” Williams testified. “I felt like I better call the lawyers.... The governor could be in trouble and I could, too.”
Attorneys for both McDonnells have said Williams shifted his story to better fit the prosecution’s needs over the last year or so. They asked him a number of questions Friday about multimillion-dollar transfers of Star Scientific stock and whether they were made in accordance with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.
They also read from an immunity agreement that seems to shield Williams from potential criminal charges in those deals. They inferred that Williams was hoping to free up cash by transferring the stock, but avoid letting other investors know that Star’s CEO was selling.
There’s a civil case pending on related matters. Star shareholders sued Williams and other executives last year, accusing them of lying about a number of things, including medical community support for Anatabloc’s key ingredient.
Among other things, Williams testified this week that Anatabloc is the biggest discovery in medicine since penicillin.
Williams sparred with attorneys a bit Friday, pushing back when his memory didn’t match their version of events. He testified earlier this week that Cailin McDonnell Young, one of the McDonnells’ daughters, called him to ask for a new SUV. Bill Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lead attorney, said Young simply offered to buy one of Williams' vehicles.
“That's false,” Williams said.
Burck wanted to know how Williams could remember this conversation so clearly after saying he couldn't recall the details of specific conversations with federal investigators.
“They're asking me a lot of questions,” Williams replied. “This young woman asked me one.”
Burck also said Maureen McDonnell asked Williams to return a Rolex watch he had purchased for the governor because it was “too much.”
“No sir, she didn't,” Williams said. “That's false. ... She asked me to get (that watch) for her.”
Burck also asked Williams about a letter the former first lady wrote to Williams when she returned dresses he purchased for her. At this point, the McDonnells knew they were being investigated, and federal prosecutors have charged Maureen McDonnell with obstruction of justice, in addition to various corruption counts.
That charge apparently stems from the letter, which suggests Williams could give the dresses to his daughter, or donate them to a charity, “like we talked about.”
“This is a fabrication right here,” Williams said Friday. “These clothes were never intended to be returned to me.”
The defense contends that Maureen McDonnell simply meant Williams could donate the dresses to a charity they’d previously discussed, not that she was pretending she and Williams had discussed donating the dresses to charity all along.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun