Former Governor McDonnell took the stand in his own defense in a surprising turn of events Wednesday afternoon during the former first couple’s federal corruption trial.
Some legal experts wonder whether it was ill-advised for him to testify right now—while others say it's a wise tactic.
McDonnell was confident and seemingly unnerved in day one of his testimony—but not before two long-time friends took the stand to vouch for his character. The former governor said he was eager to tell his side of the story:
McDonnell said he did very little for Star Scientific—nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that he hadn't done for many other constituents, whether they were donors or not.
That role was to provide routine government access to Virginians, as all governors do. While he has said in the past that it was poor judgment to accept gifts and loans from the company's former CEO, Jonnie Williams, he reiterated on the stand that it was not illegal for governors to receive gifts—no matter how large—under Virginia law.
He said he's an ethical man, has told contributors and friends "no" to their requests, and knew where to draw the line.
Prosecutors in the case turned the tables on another of the defense witnesses, and momentarily backed the McDonnells’ attorneys up against a wall.
Subsequent testimony from a cabinet member and other associates may have created some balance between the opposing cases in the middle of this third week of the trial.
Forensic accountant J. Allen Kosowsky attempted to confirm the McDonnells' financial soundness. He said the former Governor had excellent credit and did contribute to his retirement account—signaling that the couple had disposable income and did not need wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams to bail them out. But prosecutors got him to concede that the payments were staggered—until Williams gave Mrs. McDonnell a $50,000 loan in 2011.
Their accountant then testified that they never hid the loans nor Star Scientific Stock from him or on tax forms.
Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore testified that neither his agency nor the Virginia Tobacco Commission supported Williams’ tobacco-based product, and McDonnell never asked them to do so.
Later, a VCU management consultant hired to resolve problems at the Executive Mansion testified that there was a lot of drama there because of the former First Lady, and at one point it was suggested that she move back to the couple’s home.
Dr. James Burk, who is a clinical psychologist, also said Mrs. McDonnell was suffering from anxiety and possibly depression.