Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell expresses optimism as corruption trial gets underway
Updated: July 28, 2014 - 08:54 pm
RICHMOND, Va. (WJLA/AP) - A jury of eight men and four women was selected Monday in the trial of a former Virginia governor and his wife, who are charged with trading the influence of his office in exchange for thousands of dollars in gifts and loans from a businessman.
The panel for Bob and Maureen McDonnell's corruption trial was chosen from a pool of 150 potential jurors during a daylong process. Opening statements are set for Tuesday. The trial is expected to last five weeks.
Arriving at court on Monday, McDonnell told ABC 7 News that he was optimistic about the trial's outcome.
"I feel good. I'm glad we're gonna finally get a chance to present our defense in court," he said. "I've got tremendous lawyers, I've got a faith in God and the justice system and that's comforting."
McDonnell, once a prominent up-and-comer in the national Republican Party, and his wife are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of a dietary supplements company in exchange for helping promote his products.
"I'm glad you guys are here," McDonnell told several family members sitting in the first row behind the defense table before jury selection began.
He and his wife arrived at and left the courthouse separately. Upon arrival, they were greeted outside the courtroom by a small group of well-wishers while prosecutors wheeled three dollies with 13 boxes of evidence down the corridor.
In court, U.S. District Judge James Spencer asked the potential jurors more than three dozen routine questions, including whether they knew or were related to any of the people involved in the case. When he asked those who had read or heard about the headline-grabbing case to stand, almost all did. He asked those who still felt they could be fair to sit. They all sat.
Before the trial's opening, federal prosecutors filed a list of 61 potential witnesses, including Maureen McDonnell and the couple's three children, Sean, Rachel and Bobby.
The defense filed a list that includes 121 potential witnesses, many of them overlapping with the prosecutors' list. Potential defense witnesses include Bob McDonnell, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell.
Bob McDonnell was considered a possible Mitt Romney running mate in 2012 before the federal investigation ruined his political future.
Ten days after leaving office in January, McDonnell was indicted. Before the indictment, he apologized for what he described as bad judgment and said he repaid about $120,000 in gifts and loans, but he denied breaking any laws. He and his lawyers have argued that prosecutors are trying to criminalize routine and long-accepted political courtesies, such as hosting receptions and arranging meetings, that fall short of more tangible rewards historically associated with bribery.
Prosecutors have countered that the McDonnells' willingness to help former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams on "an as-needed basis" and Williams' expectation of something in return, regardless of whether he received it, is enough to support a conviction. If the jury agrees, the McDonnells could face decades in prison.
Williams is expected to testify under immunity as the prosecution's star witness.
According to the indictment, Williams lavished the McDonnells with designer clothes, golf outings, vacations and large loans while seeking government help promoting his company's products and securing grants for research studies. No government grants were awarded, but the indictment says the McDonnells hosted or appeared at numerous events to further the company's interests.
Prosecutors filed an exhibit list that totals 615 items. The exhibits include some of the former governor's bank records, emails and text messages as well as some of the gifts Williams gave to the McDonnells, including a Rolex watch, Louis Vuitton shoes, and an Oscar de la Renta dress.
The defense exhibit list includes 208 items. The list includes videos of McDonnell and Williams playing golf.
In another development Monday, Spencer ordered Williams' former assistant, Jerri Fulkerson, to testify at the trial. Fulkerson had previously indicated she would decline to answer questions to avoid incriminating herself.
Defense attorneys said in a motion last week that prosecutors have indicated that Fulkerson may have signed Williams' signature to some documents she notarized, which they said could be illegal.
Spencer's order gives Fulkerson immunity for her testimony.