Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, center, arrives at federal court with his attorneys, John Brownlee, left, and Henry Asbill, right, in Richmond, Va., Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. McDonnell presents his defense in his corruption trial today.
Attorneys for former Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are starting to mount their defense against federal prosecutors, who are pursuing a 14-count indictment in an unprecedented public corruption trial.
Defense attorneys opened their case with Brenda Chamberlain, a bookkeeper for a real-estate partnership owned by the governor and his sister. She said McDonnell gave her full access to bank records, adding it was relatively rare for a client to do that.
The next witness was Janet Kelly, who served as secretary of the commonwealth under McDonnell and played a key role in handing out jobs and appointments. She said she was never asked to give any appointments or jobs to Jonnie Williams or executives from his company.
"This is a slow start. But what you want to do is build up to the crescendo, to the main event," says Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor for the University of Mary Washington. "We are talking about a defense strategy that involves building a brick wall, brick by brick."
Kelly testified that she worked with other staffers to thwart a mass resignation of the staff at the Governor's Mansion, who wrote letter complaining about how Maureen McDonnell treated employees like "naughty children" every time something didn't suit her. On the other hand, she described the former governor as "extraordinarily gracious" and even-tempered.
"The defense is doing a very nice job of separating the governor from Mrs. McDonnell," says Rich Kelsey, assistant dean at the George Mason School of law. "And in so doing is painting a picture for the jury that Governor McDonnell is actually a sympathetic figure dealing with a difficult wife."
Prosecutors say McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, accepted more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's dietary supplements.
Maureen McDonnell is not expected to testify, although the governor is expected to be the star witness at the end of the five-week trial.