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Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected on the stand again today for a second day of testimony defending himself against charges that he took more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his products.
The governor is now engaged in the campaign of his life with a group of jurors.
"This case is going to rise and fall on the testimony of Governor McDonnell," says Michael Levy, a white collar defense attorney. "What the defense is trying to do, particularly early on in testimony is make him as credible as possible."
On the stand yesterday, the governor told jurors that the businessman who gave him thousands of dollars in gifts and loans receive no special treatment from the Virginia government. The onetime Republican up-and-comer said Star Scientific founder Jonnie Williams got "mere routine, basic access to government" and nothing more: no state funds and no board or commission appointment.
"They are trying to corroborate his testimony with much of the testimony that the jury has already heard. If the jury starts to hear him say things that are dissonant from what he said before, they are less likely to believe him," Levy says.
The former governor, making frequent eye contact with jurors while his wife sat expressionless at the defense table, said the mansion was the site of at least two other events for individual businesses and that there was nothing unusual about asking administration officials to meet with people who wanted to pitch an idea or discuss a policy matter.
"I would suspect they would want to finish with the governor on Friday," says Rich Kelsey, assistant dean of the George Mason School of Law. "Leave whatever positive statements he made with the jury over the weekend, and give themselves a full weekend to think about how to combat what is going to be a withering cross-examination."
That means the trial could wrap up as soon as next week.