RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once a rising star in the Republican Party, and his wife began Monday in federal court with jury selection.
Bob and Maureen McDonnell 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. Their trial is expected to last at least five weeks.
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.
During jury selection, Judge James R. Spencer read a list of possible defense witnesses, including 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, like 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, whether he received it or not, 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.