Trial begins for former Va. governor Bob McDonnell

RICHMOND, Va. (WUSA9) -- The trial for Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, is underway after nearly a year of scandal and months of legal wrangling.

McDonnell and his wife arrived separately on the first day of their federal corruption trial.

It'll be a a first in Virginia, a former governor criminally charged, headed to trial. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen will be tried together before a jury on a 14 count indictment.

"This trial is going to be perhaps the most amazing political trial we've seen in Virginia. We have a governor and a former First Lady with the potential actually of going to jail," said political analyst Bob Holsworth.

Federal prosecutors allege the McDonnells took $165,000 in loans and gifts from Jonnie Williams, the then-CEO of Star Scientific, and in return, helped him promote his product Antabloc. Among the items Mrs. McDonnell received: a luxury shopping spree and Oscar de la Renta dresses. The governor got a Rolex Watch, golf clubs and outings, and use of William's Ferrari and more.

However, the prosecution's case is not clear-cut on whether there was a quid-pro-quo, says Deidre Condit, VCU Public Policy Department Head. "It's unclear if there was even a nexus relationship. It's unclear if Mr. Williams, and this is why his testimony will be so important, actually expect access."

Bob McDonnell is expected to take the stand in his own defense. Mrs. McDonnell is not expected to testify. The prosecution's star witness will be Jonnie Williams, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Holsworth says the prosecution team has likely been conducting mock questioning with Williams to prepare him for the stand.

"It'll be the first time we've seen Jonnie Williams," says Holsworth, and how he's perceived by the jury will be critical. The defense will try it's best to impeach Williams' character and hammer home that "he gave up the governor simply in order to get immunity for himself."

Mrs. McDonnell is also charged with obstruction and both are charged with making false statements applying for a bank loan. Holsworth says he would not be surprised to see, in the first days of the trial, Bob McDonnell agree to a plea deal on the bank loan statements, in order to protect his wife.

Jury selection is expected to take the entire first day. Federal prosecutors filed a list of 61 potential witnesses in the trial, including Maureen McDonnell and the couple's three children.

Written by Peggy Fox


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