By Alan Suderman
RICHMOND— Prosecutors and defense lawyers for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are arguing over how much contact the couple can have with potential witnesses who are friends or relatives.
The McDonnells’ lawyers filed a motion Wednesday seeking a hearing to clarify a judge’s order barring the couple from speaking with any potential witnesses prior to their July trial on federal corruption charges. The McDonnells want permission to speak with potential witnesses if they are family members, friends or longtime business associates.
Prosecutors said they would allow the McDonnells to speak with family members, but not about the upcoming trial. The government also wants the judge to order the McDonnells not to speak with longtime friends or business associates if they are potential witnesses.
A judge has not yet ruled on the matter.
The McDonnells were indicted last week on charges that they illegally helped Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of a company that made dietary supplements, promote his products in exchange for loans and lavish gifts. The McDonnells have denied any illegal activity.
In a motion filed Tuesday, defense attorneys argued that the order not to contact any “witnesses or representatives of the government” could bar the McDonnells from having any contact with their family, their “oldest friends” and longtime former employees and colleagues.
The former first couple should only be barred with speaking to witnesses for the government that prosecutors specifically identify, the McDonnells’ lawyers said. The defense lawyers said they spoke with prosecutors and that the government lawyers didn’t oppose their position.
But prosecutors filed a motion saying otherwise.
“At no time during the discussions did the government agree not to oppose contacts (and certainly not contacts about the pending charges) by the defendants with potential witnesses who were ‘close friends’ and ‘longstanding business associates,'” prosecutors said in the motion.
Lawyers for both sides did not immediately return requests for further comment.
Prosecutors said the McDonnells could only speak to potential witnesses who were relatives, though not about the case.
Prosecutors said their proposed restrictions were reasonable in light of charges that Maureen McDonnell attempted to obstruct the federal investigation.
In an indictment filed last week, prosecutors allege that after Maureen McDonnell was interviewed by law enforcement officers, she tried to cover up some the gifts she’d received from Williams. Prosecutors said Maureen McDonnell returned clothing along with a handwritten note falsely indicating that she and Williams had “previously discussed and agreed that the defendant would return certain designer luxury goods rather than keep them permanently.”
The McDonnell legal team pushed back with a request for a hearing, saying the prosecutors’ proposals were “unjustified and unconstitutional.”
Lawyers for the former governor said the indictment had been an “extremely traumatic” event for the McDonnell family and the case “is plainly going to be a regular topic around the McDonnell dinner table and elsewhere, as it would be for any family facing such an ordeal.”
The lawyers also said that the government had “questioned virtually every close friend” of the governors, including many people he “relies upon for moral support in this difficult time.”