Court drama: The McDonnells trial begins

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Photo by James Scheuren. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Photo by James Scheuren.

Just how much are we looking forward to the July 28 kick-off of the federal corruption trial of former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen? Well, let’s just say that any visitor to Odd Dominion headquarters over the next six weeks will encounter a giant “Do Not Disturb” sign and the wafting smell of freshly popped popcorn.

Accused by the feds of numerous violations of public corruption laws, Bob McDonnell holds the dubious distinction of being Virginia’s only governor to be indicted while still living in the executive mansion. If he and his wife are found guilty on all counts (which include multiple counts of wire fraud, making false statements, and “obtaining property under color of official right,” as well as—for Maureen—a single count of obstruction), they could find themselves living behind prison walls for the rest of their lives.

To say that this seemed an unlikely outcome when McDonnell first took office would be the understatement of the decade. Love him or loathe him, when Bob McDonnell first entered the governor’s mansion (carrying Maureen over the threshold like a giddy groom) he seemed like a man with his moral compass pointed unwaveringly toward righteousness.

But what a difference four years makes! Now accused of of taking over $160,000 in gifts, loans, and perks from tobacco-and-dietary supplement impresario Jonnie Williams in return for various favors, Bob and Maureen face both reputational ruin and untold years of incarceration.

Making matters worse for them, the lead-up to the trial has consisted of a series of setbacks and new, unseemly revelations. After hiring a forensic accountant named Allen Kosowsky (at a “discounted rate” of $400 per hour) to pore over the former first couple’s finances, the defense was recently dealt a blow by presiding Judge James Spencer, who denied a request to allow Kosowsky and another expert witness to testify in front of the jury. This hurts the McDonnells’ case on two fronts, as their lawyers are seeking to dispel the notion that the couple were in dire financial straits when they met Williams, while also arguing that Williams—the prosecution’s star witness—is being bailed out by the feds, who have delayed evidence-gathering in two ongoing civil suits against Williams and his company Star Scientific (now renamed Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals).

The judge also denied defense motions to bar some pieces of evidence—including financial disclosure forms filed by the former governor and incriminating statements made by his wife to law enforcement officers—from trial.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have recently expanded their allegations to include a $23,000 golf resort vacation taken by the McDonnells in May 2012. This pricey getaway was reportedly paid for by UVA Board of Visitors Vice Rector William Goodwin, and—according to the feds—intentionally omitted by the then-gov on his annual disclosure forms.

On the plus side, the Bob McDonnell “Restoration Fund” has raised around $250,000 for his defense (including a $10,000 donation from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney). Of course, his defense team has estimated that the trial will cost the McDonnells at least $1 million, but it’s a start.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go check our supply of Orville Redenbacher gourmet kernels and make sure our EasyPop is in good working order. See you in six weeks!