Aug. 20, 2014
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Former Governor Bob McDonnell took the stand Wednesday in his own defense, testifying at his public corruption trial about his sometimes volatile relationship with his wife, Maureen.
Bob McDonnell said he got an inkling the day after his 2009 victory that his wife had reservations about being first lady.
"I could tell she was not as happy as I was about the result," he testified as his lawyers put on the fourth day of his defense.
At one point, she was upset and yelling at him, but he reassured her that she would do a good job, he said.
"She seemed to be upset, concerned about her role," he said.
The McDonnells are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for using their office to promote his tobacco-based supplement, Anatabloc. The former governor's lawyers have suggested that Maureen McDonnell acted largely on her own to promote Anatabloc.
Defense attorneys set up McDonnell's testimony by calling two character witnesses — a high school friend and a college roommate — who described the defendant as truthful, honest and law-abiding.
"Bob's a role model for all of us," said the Rev. Timothy Scully, a University of Notre Dame political science professor who met McDonnell when they were both freshmen there. "He embodies virtue."
He said he believes Bob and Maureen McDonnell love one another, although "there was a certain mercurial character at times to the partnership."
Other testimony centered on two sides of Maureen McDonnell: a public persona traveling the state and promoting Virginia businesses and a woman stressed out from her Executive Mansion role.
Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore said Maureen McDonnell often traveled to tout businesses such as wineries, countering the notion that she gave special treatment to Williams.
Defense lawyers say the McDonnells sought to promote all sorts of Virginia-based businesses, including Star Scientific, at every opportunity as part of an economic development agenda. Prosecutors say the McDonnells' special treatment to Williams' company included setting up meetings for him and hosting an event at the mansion.
Jurors also heard from James Burke, director of the Performance Management Group at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said his organization was retained to help rectify the "undue amount of chaos" in the governor's mansion stemming from Maureen McDonnell's unhappiness with her role as first lady.
The possibility of Maureen McDonnell moving out of the mansion and into the couple's home in suburban Richmond was briefly discussed, but nothing came of it, Burke said.
Burke also said he and a co-worker met privately with Bob McDonnell and suggested counseling for his wife for anxiety and perhaps depression because "we had heard she would often snap."
McDonnell rejected the idea, saying "he needed to take responsibility for the problem he caused" and would try to spend more time with his wife.
Burke's work with the governor's mansion staff ended when he vigorously opposed their plan to deliver a letter to Bob McDonnell airing their grievances and threatening to walk out if the problems were not corrected, he said.
"We wanted them to end the drama" and deal with Maureen McDonnell directly so the governor could focus on his job, Burke said.
Since the trial began, other witnesses have described Maureen McDonnell as volatile and prone to outbursts and the couple's marriage as having communication issues.