Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell took the witness stand in his corruption trial in Richmond this week, building the defense that he couldn’t have been in a criminal conspiracy with his wife Maureen because their 38-year marriage was so bad they hardly talked to each other.
The former first couple are facing a federal prosecution for taking $177,000 in loans and gifts from Jonnie Williams, who ran a nutritional supplements business.
The New York Times, calling the trial soap-operatic, said:
Almost immediately, a politician who always campaigned as a devoted family man and conservative Roman Catholic turned the spotlight on his embattled wife. On the day after his November 3, 2009, election as governor, he said, his elation was not matched by hers. He recalled her yelling at him as his phone rang, with President Obama on the line with congratulations.
McDonnell said his wife was stressed about becoming Virginia’s first lady.
Witnesses testified that Maureen terrorized the staff at the governor’s mansion. One called her a nutbag.
Another witness from the ex-governor’s staff said Bob McDonnell was like a naïve Boy Scout.
Despite the cash and gifts, McDonnell said on the stand that Williams’ company, Star Scientific, didn’t receive special treatment.
“I — my administration — did very little but provide routine access to government.”
McDonnell, once viewed as a potential Republican presidential candidate, was governor of Virginia until early 2014.
Ten days after his term ended, he and his wife were charged in a 14-count indictment for public corruption.
They each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
McDonnell admitted this week accepting gifts and favors from Williams, including golf accessories, vacations, and private plane rides.
The former governor testified that he knew his wife took a $50,000 loan from Williams. McDonnell said he didn’t push Maureen to give back the loan because he and his wife had been arguing about other money problems they had.
He said Maureen often complained about her staff at the governor’s mansion. So he made excuses to work late to avoid his wife.
“It got to a point where I couldn’t come home and listen to that,” McDonnell said from the witness stand.
Politico’s David Nather and Katie Glueck summed up McDonnell’s testimony Thursday this way:
. . . it was easy to see why he was once regarded as one of the most talented Republican politicians in the country. He didn’t simply throw his wife, Maureen, under a bus to keep himself out of prison. He laid her down gently on the road, with a pillow and blanket.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.