News Column

Former Va. governor tells court about his rocky marriage

August 21, 2014

By Nick Ochsner, and Joanie Vasiliadis, USA TODAY

After reading portions of a September 2011 letter to his wife in federal court Thursday, Virginia's former governor said he thought then that his marriage might be over.

He wrote the e-mail after scheduling a rare weekend at home, but instead experienced his wife's "fiery anger," which governor's mansion staffers had testified about earlier in the corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell.

"I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent," read the e-mail displayed overhead during the trial in U.S. District Court.

Bob McDonnell is in his second day of testimony in his own defense. He and his wife are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams, then-chief executive of Virginia-based Star Scientific.

A year after the bungled weekend, the McDonnells went on a $36,000Cape Cod weekend with Williams and five others.

Bob McDonnell said that the day he sent his wife that emotional e-mail, she did not respond. While preparing for his trial, he learned that Maureen McDonnell had communicated with Williams four times that same day.

The defense has characterized the first lady as the one who solicited luxury goods and financial help from Williams. But the government indicted both Maureen and Bob McDonnell, accusing them of promoting the products of Williams' company in exchange for Williams' largess.

Bob McDonnell said he either didn't know immediately about many of Williams' gifts and loans or didn't consider them a problem because Williams hadn't asked for favors. Virginia laws are lax on gifts to public officials, but they must disclose anything valued at $50 or more, or $100 total.

Among Bob McDonnell's explanations:

•A $50,000 loan. McDonnell said he didn't learn about this May 2011 loan until June, after his wife had spent the money. Williams said he told the governor of his plans in advance.

•Designer shopping spree. He knew nothing about Williams' April 2011 shopping trip to designer showrooms in New York, he said. His wife had told him that she got a couple of dresses and didn't say that Williams picked up the almost $20,000 tab.

•Wedding costs. Williams paid $15,000 for the wedding reception of the McDonnells' middle daughter, Cailin, who was married in June 2011 at the governor's mansion. McDonnell said he considered the check a gift to his daughter, so it did not need to be disclosed.

Maureen McDonnell's team of defense lawyers has said that she won't take the stand herself. But Virginia's former first lady, who balked at the public life of a politician's wife, now has to listen to her husband dissect their marital woes and their finances in public.

Previous witnesses have called Maureen McDonnell angry, unstable, even potentially mentally ill. For the most part, she has stared off into space as they talked about her demeanor.

She rejected the idea of counseling while her husband was governor because she thought any visits would become public, Bob McDonnell said.

Though the former governor did not say he has split from his wife of 38 years, he testified that he has been staying with his parish priest since about a week before the trial started July 28 so he could immerse himself in his court case.

His marriage is on hold and probably has been since 2011, he said.

Nick Ochsner also reports for WVEC-TV, Hampton-Norfolk, Va.; Joanie Vasiliadis also reports for WUSA-TV, Washington. Contributing: Peggy Fox, WUSA-TV; Shelly Wilford, WVEC-TV; the Associated Press.


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Source: USA Today

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