RICHMOND, Va. — Yes, it’s a historic, first-ever corruption trial of a Virginia governor.
It’s also a national scandal that blew the high-flying political career of Bob McDonnell right out of the sky.
But you can’t help but think of this serious-business federal corruption trial as a country music soap opera.
Wednesday’s testimony had the former first lady – a former Washington Redskins cheerleader – gleefully trying on dresses in some of New York City’s finer shops as a shady tobacco executive sat on an ottoman, waiting to pay the $20,000 bill.
“This went on for hours,” testified Star Scientific chief leader Jonnie Williams, who looked tan and dapper on the stand, wearing what appeared to be the identical suit and tie he wore for an event at the governor’s mansion before the scandal mushroomed.
Williams, a wheeler-dealer tobacco exec who has made and ruined fortunes pushing his miracle tobacco health products, testified bluntly he wanted to use the McDonnells and their office to boost his business.
He said he found Mrs. McDonnell hungry for some all-expenses-paid shopping times in the swank shops of New York City.
Already, the McDonnell’s defense has portrayed the former first lady as crushing on Jonnie Williams. Bob McDonnell has said Williams “poisoned’ his dysfunctional marriage.
Wednesday’s soap opera testimony appeared to back up this bimbo defense. Williams testified he was all set to buy Mrs. McDonnell a designer inauguration dress, but the governor’s lawyer said no and Mrs. McDonnell was quite disappointed.
His testimony began with an explanation of how he had bought and turned around the Brown & Williamson tobacco company in Petersburg.
Armchair scientific research convinced him some substances in tobacco beyond nicotine made it addictive and also had positive effects on the body, including fighting thyroid cancer. He used this belief to steer the business into biotech product design.
We was very believable on the stand, even to someone who has read of his costly ventures. He looked like he could be a TV doctor on a soap opera. I wanted to have some of his miracle cream.
Bob McDonnell looked like could use some. He appeared wan and still and patient, turning occasionally to watching Williams testify how the governor used his Leer Jet and had spoke at a function on behalf of his so-called research firm.
Williams said on the stand he was willing to spend money and time to bank on the “credibility of the governor.” Earlier he said, “I think it’s become common practice in Virginia.”
The former governor sat apart from his wife at the defense table. The couple also left the courthouse apart with separate entourages.
I watched, embarrassed for everyone, except Jonnie Williams. He looked like he was having a fine time on the stand, comfortable with being a cold-blooded, manipulative fat cat who would do whatever it takes to sell his stuff. “The number one rule of business is to stay in business,” he said unapologetically from the stand. It’s unclear at this point what kind of deal he has with federal investigators.
But Maureen McDonnell . . . really? It’s okay for some dude to sit outside your dressing room as you try on clothes he’s paying for? I’m hearing that country song, “I like my women a little on the trashy side.”
Bob McDonnell . . . really? You’re going to let this happen; use this guy’s jet, his car, his toys? I guess all the fast-talking businessmen sound better at closing time, to borrow from that country song.
Charles Everrett James Jr., a white-collar criminal defense attorney for Williams Mullen and a former prosecutor in this very same federal courthouse, said “none of us would like our personal lives laid bare in a courtroom like we’ve seen here today . . . But the jury is going to be reminded in the jury instructions . . the question is whether they did something illegal, not whether they did something salacious.”
The trial resumes Thursday morning with lots more questions from the prosecutor for Jonnie Williams. It’s going to be his show for the next couple of days in this monthlong-plus country song of historic proportions.