I wrote last night that at this stage of a long trial, there is a strong impulse to finish that is akin to the horse heading for the barn. Last night, we heard that there would be one more Bob McDonnell witness; this morning, Bob’s lawyers rested their defense without calling another witness. Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers put on about 6 hours of testimony and rested. The government started on its rebuttal case with two short witnesses and one more coming (probably also short), and then the case will be ready for the jury.
Maureen’s first witness was April Niamtu, a friend of Maureen who testified about Maureen’s interest in “nutraceuticals” — the name given to chemicals like dietary supplements that don’t have to go through drug testing for efficacy. Maureen had sold nutraceuticals from home in Virginia Beach, so Jonnie Williams pitching Anatabloc no doubt found a receptive audience in the First Lady. She also testified that Maureen was very gullible, and infatuated with Williams.
Next up was the McDonnells’ daughter, Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky. She testified that the McDonnells’ public displays of affection were purely for public consumption; it was like “flipping on a switch” for them when they went out in public. The Washington Post summarized what must have been extraordinarily painful testimony for a daughter to give about her parents’ marriage:
Zubowsky, an Army veteran, testified that her father was consumed by the demands of his career and sometimes neglected his wife as she raised their children. Maureen McDonnell felt “frustration, loneliness, anger, at times,” her daughter said, and turned to soap operas, drinks and long baths to relieve stress.
. . .
Zubowsky said her father confided to her once about his marriage, while on a family vacation to a state-owned cottage at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach in July 2011.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said her father told her. “I can’t make her happy.”
The next witness was Emmett Flood, who represented the McDonnells in February, 2013, when the state police investigation of chef Todd Schneider was wrapping up and the investigation of the McDonnells was just starting. He testified that he called a federal prosecutor and asked if there was a federal investigation going on of the McDonnells; he was told that there was not. Around this time, Maureen wrote a note to Jonnie Williams “returning” to him the dresses that he had “loaned” her. Flood testified that at the time she did that, she had no knowledge that there was an investigation going on into her and Bob and Jonnie Williams. (The import of this testimony is that if she didn’t know there was an investigation going on, she can’t be guilty of obstructing that investigation by writing the obviously fake note.)
Finally, Maureen’s lawyers called Robert Ross, an investigator for the law firm representing Bob McDonnell. Ross had made up a number of charts and timelines, summarizing the defense theories of the case. In federal court (more so than in state court), the rules of evidence permit these sorts of summary charts to be introduced into evidence, so the jury can take them back into the jury room. Among other things, this places a premium on having the sorts of summary exhibits that amount to carrying the closing argument back into the jury room. It’s kind of boring in the courtroom, but it’s important that they be admitted.
After her attorney said that they were done, Judge Spencer asked Maureen McDonnell to state on the record that she was aware that she had a right to testify, but that she was making her own decision NOT to testify.
Then the prosecution called two short rebuttal witnesses.
The first was James Abel, a New York City event planner, whose testimony, from all descriptions, seems so irrelevant that all that I can say is that the subtle minds of the prosecutors must find something incriminating there that is not apparent to the rest of us. I’ll quote the Washington Post story verbatim because I clearly don’t understand why this was testimony that the jury needed to hear:
The first was party planner James Abel, a friend of Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff who had a chance encounter with Williams at an April 2011 event in New York City.
Abel said the first lady’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, introduced him to the businessman at the event, and the two of them got to talking after Sutherland left to work. At one point, Abel said, Williams pulled out some Anatabloc in what looked like a “modern, cool, hip tic tac container” and talked of how he would soon be launching the supplement on the market.
Abel said he pitched Williams on having a launch party (important, because defense attorneys have suggested Sutherland was the brainchild of that idea) and even suggested creating 20-foot-tall Anatabloc bottle replicas for guests to walk through.
Williams eventually had lunch at the governor’s mansion on the day Anatabloc went to market, but Abel said he wasn’t involved in planning it.
I have no idea what Abel’s testimony added to the case.
The second prosecution rebuttal witness was Matt Hunter, a former Star Scientific employee who testified that he drove the Williams’ Ferrari to Smith Mountain Lake so that Bob could drive it. This was offered to rebut Bob’s rather vague memory of how the Ferrari came to be at Smith Mountain Lake. The only real purpose to this testimony, as far as I can see, is to have another excuse to revisit the Ferrari-as-bribe theme. Apparently the government has one more witness that it plans to call in the morning, and then the case should be ready for instructions and argument.
The thinking among courtroom observers is that after that last witness testifies, the jury will be sent home while the lawyers argue over the jury instructions to be given. Then the closing arguments will be given on Friday, and the jury would begin its deliberations.