By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
While I think the McDonnells have a better defense strategy, the one their lawyers are apparently considering is fascinating.
My bottom line: sending anyone to jail on premier huckster Jonnie Williams' testimony should be against the law if it isn’t already. On Friday, Williams said his latest product discovery is as great if not greater than penicillin! Not long he made tens of millions of dollars off Star Scientific Inc. while the company was losing hundreds of millions of dollars on a claim to have discovered a process to produce safer tobacco! It began with smaller “discoveries” in the 1980s that made him money while bankrupting investors.
But the McDonnell defense team is resisting any suggestion the former Governor got “conned” by the Henrico snake charmer. With all due respect, Jonnie has fooled far savvier people than Bob McDonnell.
It seems the McDonnells' legal eagles are laying the ground for this defense: Maureen made Bob do it.
On Friday, the former governor’s lawyer began ticking off key events, pointing out how Maureen McDonnell, not Bob, invariably seemed to be at the scene of the alleged crime.
Assume defense lawyers convince jurors Maureen thought she had established a personal connection with the wealthy, charming, huckster. Williams emphatically denies it, but the key is her mindset, not his.
Williams readily admits to wanting to get close to the McDonnells' star power, not win state contracts. In his patented modus operandi, the huckster uses the “credibility” of high profile people to add believability to his questionable products. Financially-bleeding Star Scientific Inc. desperately needed last gasp Anatabloc “health products” to be successful to survive.
On the witness stand, Williams conceded parading first lady Maureen around at investor and sales conferences around the country was good enough, because where she went her husband’s name surely followed. This Virginia connection for a Virginia company helped greatly.
The defense attorneys' bottom line-in-the-making appears to be: Maureen, soft on Jonnie, digging on his money, lifestyle and charm, is the one who convinced Governor McDonnell to trust Williams.
The defense, therefore, thinks the prosecution strategy of painting the Williams/Governor Bob relationship as purely business helps the McDonnells. Why? Because it makes it easier to show that Maureen thought she had the personal connection with Williams and it served Williams’ purposes to make her think that he needed her to sell the Governor. The 1,200 texts and calls between Jonnie and Maureen compared to only 60 between Jonnie and Bob help make that point.
It actually served both men's pruposes to keep Maureen in the middle. Think about it: Maureen isn’t a public official, therefore she can’t commit public corruption on her own.
Maureen’s criminal liability is only as a conspirator with her husband. Thus, by tying Maureen to Jonnie, and trying to distance Bob, both McDonnells have a joint defense even if seems to be putting the weight on her.
So, Maureen thought she finally had found her Sugar Daddy. Jonnie figured $150,000 was roughly the sum he and Star Scientific Inc. had given Jerry Kilgore a few years before when the then Republican Attorney General put together his ultimately failed bid for governor. On Friday, Williams said he never expected anything from Kilgore.
True, the money went to Kilgore’s gubernatorial campaign, whereas here Williams gave the loot to the McDonnells directly, but will this seem a criminal difference to the jury when the former governor says Williams likewise never directly asked him for anything?
Arguing Maureen made Bob do it isn’t throwing the first lady to the federal wolves. It simply says Maureen told Bob that Jonnie had become her friend, the Governor didn’t want to get into an argument over Jonnie, he knew his wife couldn’t break any corruption laws, they needed the money, Jonnie told Maureen he could afford to help, and so Bob did a couple of light weight things no businessman in Virginia would consider criminal. It made the wife happy.
The Maureen made Bob do it strategy seems risky, but at least it is a unified theory to explain stuff from start to finish.