The McDonnells’ Friend Jonnie
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watches “Another watch?” That is how Bob McDonnell, then the Governor of Virginia, responded when his wife, Maureen, gave him a Rolex watch one Christmas, according to the testimony of one of their sons. She’d already bought him a Seiko; the son offered his opinion that the Rolex seemed fake because it ticked instead of “rolled,” as he, a young man in his twenties, knew a Rolex should.
fake watches The McDonnells are on trial for public corruption. They are charged with taking a hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars’ worth of gifts and “loans” from Jonnie Williams, Sr., in exchange for using the Governor’s office to help his nutraceutical business. The gifts included a full-length white leather coat and the Rolex watch, which, as the jurors saw, when it was passed to them as an exhibit, is inscribed “71st Governor of Virginia.” (One of the small blessings of this case is that the white leather coat was meant to be worn by Maureen, not Bob McDonnell.) And yet Bob McDonnell’s graceless response to the watch is at the heart of his defense. His lawyers have argued that the Governor’s marriage had so broken down that he and his wife were barely speaking—so how could they conspire? Maureen’s lawyers have said that Bob made her so sad that she got another man to buy things, so that she could feel like someone cared.
replica watches on sale “Jonnie Williams was larger than life to Maureen McDonnell,” her lawyer said. It wasn’t clear whether his stature was owing to his claim that Anatabloc, his supposed miracle product, had cured his wife’s precancerous thyroid condition, or because the first time he met Maureen he offered to get her an Oscar de la Renta dress for Virginia’s Inaugural Ball. “But, unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell.” Her lawyer added that some people might find her relationship with Williams, on whom she had a “crush,” to be “inappropriate.” Williams, who is testifying against the McDonnells under a grant of immunity, said that there was no romance—it was only business, the business of getting the Governor to help his company. (The Washington Post has a good roundup of the testimony.)
swiss replica watches What the McDonnells’ lawyers are trying to do here is get through a narrow opening in Virginia’s ethics laws. It was not necessarily illegal for the Governor and his family to take gifts. And, to an extent, the Governor is supposed to promote Virginia products; his lawyer talked about how he also “eats Virginia ham” to explain why, at a luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion, there came to be sample packets of Anatabloc next to every place setting. But it is highly illegal for gifts to be exchanged for any “official act.” Both sides of the deal—the gifts and the acts—are fairly plainly there: the Governor’s office made calls and set up meetings for Williams, and Maureen flew to Florida to promote Anatabloc at a conference. The lawyers have to show that the items in Column A and in Column B have no connection—that the Governor’s business advocacy just coincided, unfortunately, with his wife’s dizzy infatuation. Hence the grumpy-Rolex-reception defense.
fake watches For the McDonnells, there are many problems with this. One is a photograph of Bob McDonnell smiling and pointing to the watch on his wrist, which one family member texted to Williams and which prosecutors showed in court on Thursday. It joins a photograph of Bob McDonnell grinning behind the wheel of Williams’s Ferrari, taken while he and Maureen were staying at Williams’s vacation house. (It was one of a number of trips that the family took at Williams’s expense, including one to Cape Cod that involved spa treatments and a clam bake.) He knew whose car it was. Maureen texted that picture to Williams, too; the same night, Bob e-mailed Virginia’s secretary of health, asking him to send deputies to a meeting with Maureen about Anatabloc.
He also knew that it was Williams’s account at the Kinloch Golf Club that he and his sons were billing rounds of golf, and gear from the pro shop, on, and that it was Williams who paid fifteen thousand dollars for the food at the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin’s wedding reception.
Cailin testified that Williams decided to give his “generous” gift after meeting her for ten minutes; she then added him to the invitation list. She cried on the stand when prosecutors showed pictures of her wedding and of her dress, for which she paid only forty-three dollars, a favor to her mother from the bridal shop. There was now, she said, “this dark cloud” over her perfect day.
More blatantly, it was Bob McDonnell who negotiated directly with Williams about fifty- and twenty-thousand-dollar loans meant to help a real-estate business that McDonnell was in with his sister. Late one night, McDonnell wrote to press Williams on getting it done, mentioning a brokerage account. Six minutes later, the Governor wrote to one of his aides, “Pls see me about anatabloc issues at VCU and UVA. Thx.” Williams testified that he’d made it clear to the McDonnells that getting the state’s public universities to run trials on Anatabloc was one of his priorities: “I know that he controls the medical schools, so I needed his help with the testing of this.”
Early on, Williams testified, he and Maureen had a late-night meeting, alone at the Governor’s Mansion. She talked to him about how she and Bob needed money badly; there were credit-card bills and the prospects of bankruptcy. She also said that she knew a lot about nutraceuticals. “The Governor says it’s O.K. for me to help you, but I need you to help me with this financial situation,” she said, according to Williams. He also testified that he didn’t want to simply take Maureen’s word for it about the Governor’s involvement, and insisted on talking to him directly: “He’s the breadwinner in the house, and I’m not writing his wife checks without him knowing about it.”
If there is a distance between the McDonnells, it may be in the practicality of their demands. Williams testified that he had to tell Maureen not to let the McDonnell sons drive the Ferrari; then he was pushed to buy other cars for the children. After Maureen asked Williams’s assistant to arrange for his private jet to pick up a daughter in Virginia Beach and two sons in Richmond, to fly to a resort that was also in Virginia, it had to be explained to her that jets aren’t suited to small hops. (“Can you recall any other time when a politician asked for the use of Mr. Williams’s plane to transport their children over a space of a one-and-a-half-hour drive?” a prosecutor asked the assistant. She did not.) All three flew from Richmond. Why did Maureen think it was a good idea for a governor to be wearing a Rolex in the first place, whoever bought it? Maybe it would look right in a post-office lobbying life, but not yet. One glimpses, in Maureen’s puzzlement about her situation, an assumption that power, money, and private planes naturally fit together, and that, if they don’t, something must be broken—perhaps a marriage.
There is something both appalling and poignant in what she chose to ask for from that obliging purveyor of miracle products. The shopping trip for the full-length white leather coat came after a state lawyer told her that she couldn’t take the Oscar de la Renta dress for the inauguration. She was very disappointed about that, Williams testified; it mattered so much what she, the First Lady of Virginia, wore to the ball.
Amy Davidson is the executive editor of . She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a column for its Web site, covering war, sports, and everything in between.Bio All work & Sign up to get the best of The New Yorker delivered to your inbox every day Most Popular
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