Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor on trial for corruption, said he no longer lives with his wife, reinforcing his claim the couple had grown increasingly estranged and didn’t conspire to use state resources to help a businessman in exchange for benefits.
McDonnell testified yesterday that he moved out of his home just before the trial and now is staying at the rectory of a Catholic priest who is a friend.
In his second day of testimony, McDonnell said he “can’t face going to court every day and mulling it all over again.”
McDonnell, a former rising star in the Republican party once seen as a possible presidential contender for 2016, faces with his wife, Maureen, an ex-Washington Redskins cheerleader, a 14-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, honest-services fraud and making false statements.
The McDonnells are accused of accepting vacations, loans, private plane rides and other benefits in exchange for using the governor’s office to benefit businessman Jonnie R. Williams, who at the time headed Star Scientific Inc. and was trying to promote the dietary supplements made by the Glen Allen, Virginia-based company. Star Scientific changed its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc. in June.
McDonnell, at times his voice shaking, spent hours outlining how his happy marriage to Maureen gradually deteriorated as the demands of their children, money and his powerful political ambition took him away from his family, emotionally and physically. He read jurors from an Sept. 5, 2011, e-mail in which he begged his wife to try to salvage their sinking marriage.
“You told me yesterday you would wreck my things and how bad I am,” McDonnell read from the e-mail. He said the missive was sent at the lowest point in his life.
McDonnell’s lawyers are attempting to portray the former governor as a hardworking public servant and his wife as an erratic and difficult woman who began a relationship with Williams that involved more than $170,000 in gifts, loans and cash at the core of the corruption charges.
McDonnell downplayed his involvement with Williams. He said he was shocked to learn his wife and Williams had communicated 1,200 times. Lawyers for Maureen McDonnell have said she had a “crush” on Williams.
Asked directly by his lawyer Henry Asbill whether he thought Williams had a physical affair with his wife, McDonnell said, “I don’t believe so.”
McDonnell said yesterday that he drove Williams’s Ferrari at the businessman’s request. Williams said he needed the former governor to drive the high-performance sports car to Richmond, said McDonnell, adding he hadn’t driven in a long time for security reasons.
“I deserve to be normal,” he said. “I have never driven a Ferrari. It was fun.”
The former governor recalled he met Maureen in 1973 when he was at a party in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, while home from the University of Notre Dame. After three years of long-distance courtship, they married. Their first days of home life were “like an extended honeymoon,” with him serving in Germany as an army officer, McDonnell said.
After winning an election for attorney general, McDonnell said he had to move his family from their Virginia Beach home to Richmond, which Maureen found traumatic. Her behavior had become more erratic and she “had sought medical attention in Virginia Beach before we moved up here,” McDonnell testified.
While his wife supported his political career, McDonnell said that each advancement took him farther away from her and brought out feelings of depression, anxiety and aggression. She was especially angry when her husband told her that she would have to temporarily discontinue her business selling vitamin supplements because they might present a conflict of interest with his political offices.
McDonnell said that the times he tried to communicate with her would break down into shouting matches with Maureen telling him he couldn’t trust his political staff.
His wife had borrowed $6,000 from her chief of staff and accepted a $50,000 check from Williams, McDonnell testified. She used the money to pay off credit cards and buy Star Scientific shares, McDonnell said.
“I was upset,” the former governor testified. “We had no reason to borrow the money.”
The case is U.S. v. McDonnell, 14-cr-00012, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond).