Will Broken Marriage Defense Keep Bob McDonnell Out of Prison?

August 28, 2014

After five weeks of testimony and dozens of witnesses, all sides rested Thursday morning in the federal corruption trial against former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. The McDonnells are accused of giving special favors to Star Scientific Inc., and its CEO Johnnie Williams, in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans between 2011 and 2013.

The legal defense for the McDonnells revolves around the couple's broken marriage. Legal experts say airing their dirty laundry may be the only way to keep them out of prison.

"The defense strategy has been all along to disassociate the governor from his wife, who he blames for most of the financial dealings with Mr. Williams," said legal analyst Scott Goodman. "If he can give a plausible explanation for not being in the loop and not being aware of what Mr. Williams was doing-the reasons for the money, the amounts of the money, the timing of the money-he has a better chance of being found not guilty."

Defense attorneys argue it was Maureen McDonnell who developed a "crush" on Williams and enjoyed the lavish lifestyle he provided. The oldest daughter of the McDonnells testified her parents had an unhappy marriage that deteriorated as her father's career soared, first as attorney general and the governor of Virginia. Bob McDonnell testified he had not been a very good husband and that his job requirements kept him too busy to know what was going on at home. The defense has argued throughout the trial the McDonnells could not have conspired together to sell the office of the governor, because they weren't even on speaking terms.

But prosecutors painted a very different picture, one that included the couple taking 18 vacations during the 22 month period they accepted many of Williams gifts and money. Federal investigators presented phone records showing Maureen spoke twice as much to her husband as she did Williams.

"The governor has admitted that while he was governor, he was putting on an act by pretending to have a good marriage," Goodman said. "The government can just as well argue in closing arguments that the whole thing the governor is putting on during this trial is an act too. The governor has admitted he's an actor."

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Friday morning. Following that, the jury of seven men and five women will begin deliberating the case. The McDonnells face several decades in prison if convicted.

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