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Ex-Va. governor faces questions from prosecutors

McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge of  some gifts.

McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge of some gifts.

RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell faced sharp questions Monday from prosecutors about details of his personal finances at his public corruption trial.

As the trial entered its fifth week, prosecutors began their cross-examination of McDonnell. He and his wife, Maureen, are charged with providing special favors to a wealthy businessman, former Star Scientific Inc. chief executive Jonnie Williams, in exchange for $165,000 in gifts and loans while McDonnell was in office.

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The pointed questions prompted long pauses and lengthy explanations from McDonnell, who was admonished by the judge to just ‘‘answer the question’’ when he tried to offer a detailed response of why he disagreed with a question that implied that a joint real-estate venture he owned with his sister was in financial trouble.

Money issues are key because prosecutors have said McDonnell’s financial desperation prompted him to accept cash and gifts from Williams. McDonnell says he considered Williams a friend and he had been making progress in reducing his family’s debt even without Williams’s help.

Prosecutor Michael Dry asked McDonnell about a series of e-mails from staffers in which they speculated that Maureen McDonnell was drawn to Williams because ‘‘he’s loaded.’’ McDonnell, after initially demurring, said he didn’t believe his wife was drawn to Williams for his money.

‘‘Money? That wasn’t the reason for friendship, no,’’ McDonnell said. But asked whether his wife had a long history of making inappropriate financial requests of friends and family, McDonnell agreed.

The cross-examination began with McDonnell acknowledging that he knew Williams had loaned him and his wife $120,000 and had provided numerous expensive gifts, including $15,000 to pay for catering at the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter, personal vacations on Cape Cod and at Smith Mountain Lake, and golf outings.

During three days on the stand in direct examination, McDonnell had downplayed his knowledge about some of the gifts, saying he did not learn about them until after the fact or that they had been arranged by his wife.

For example, McDonnell said, he did not know at the time that Williams spent $20,000 on designer clothing for Maureen McDonnell on a Manhattan shopping spree. Dry asked McDonnell if he was testifying that, despite his knowledge of his wife’s inappropriate financial requests and Williams’ lavish spending on other occasions, it never occurred to him that Williams might pick up the tab.

‘‘That’s exactly what I’m testifying to, yes,’’ McDonnell said.

Dry also pressed McDonnell on his previous testimony that Williams started as a political donor but became a friend. Asked how he defines a personal friend, McDonnell mentioned common interests, affinity, and mutual respect before adding: ‘‘Most people understand what a friend is when they have one. It’s hard to put into words.’’

Earlier Monday, McDonnell was questioned by his wife’s lawyer and said Maureen McDonnell never asked him to do anything to help Williams’s business ventures.

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