RICHMOND – Bob McDonnell took a jury to the low point of his marriage Thursday, then turned to the long trend of generosity that landed him and his wife in federal court.
His second day of testimony was intensely personal, part rationlization, part denial and part mea culpa.
The ex-governor’s wife, Maureen, watched as he dissected their all-but-destroyed marriage. He said he lives with his priest right now, unwilling to go home each night and rehash a trial that hinges, in part, on his wife’s apparent shortcomings.
He talked about the Ferrari. He talked about the Rolex. He said he was blindsided by the extent of his wife’s relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the wealthy campaign donor who federal prosecutors say bribed the couple.
He talked about an email he sent his wife on Labor Day 2011, after his busy schedule and her angry outbursts had overwhelmed the marriage.
“I love you,” the email began. “Yesterday was one of the lowest points in my life.”
The McDonnell marriage was cracking long before he won the 2009 governor’s race, based on the story Bob McDonnell told Thursday. He was gone a lot, first for legislative sessions as a House delegate, then as attorney general, then on the campaign for governor.
Maureen McDonnell developed a separate life of sorts, he said, and a small business selling dietary supplements not unlike Anatabloc, Williams’ unproven wonder-product that figures so heavily in this case.
Over the years, the couple’s conversations became more and more about logistics: five children and a busy schedule as the governor took a national political profile.
When they moved into the governor’s mansion, Maureen McDonnell grew anxious, lashed out at staff and accused her husband’s most loyal aides of working against her, he said. There were nights he worked late because “I just couldn't come home and listen to that,” he said.
McDonnell said he took time off that Labor Day weekend just for his wife.
But she rebuffed him. He spent Saturday alone for the most part, he said. They went to church on Sunday. He remembered thinking “maybe this was the end of our marriage.”
“You tell me all the time how bad your life has been with me and how unhappy you are,” he wrote that Labor Day Monday, in a last-ditch effort of sorts emailed to his wife.
He told her that she didn't understand how deeply she cut him, and others, with her tongue. He said her yelling left him emotionally and spiritually exhausted, and that his prayers about their marriage had gone unanswered.
He closed the letter, “Let me know if you want to talk softly. Bob.”
Henry Asbill, one of McDonnell's lead attorneys, asked the former governor if he got a response.
“No,” he said quietly.
McDonnell testified that he doesn’t think his wife ever had a physical relationship with Williams, who is now the government’s star witness against the couple. But an emotional one? Yes.
McDonnell said he was shocked when cellphone records unearthed for this trial showed hundreds of calls and texts between the two. His defense, and hers, hinges on her being the primary actor with Williams, leaving the governor unaware of at least some of her efforts on behalf of Anatabloc, which Williams brought to market in 2011.
McDonnell said Thursday that Williams and his company, Star Scientific, asked him for very little. Less than many Virginia businesses, in fact. Anatabloc seemed to have promise, and Star was a Virginia company. Setting meetings with state officials was nothing the governor hadn’t done for hundreds of other people, he said.