Romance, designer gowns, lavish parties, fast cars, private jets and lakeside mansions. The federal trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and his first lady on corruption charges features all that and more. If you’re headed to the beach, the transcript makes for riveting reading.
You’ll discover how the couple is trying to explain that Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams gave them $165,000 in loans and gifts because the governor’s wife, Maureen, had a crush on him and that the governor knew nothing about it. “Another man,” attorney William Burck argued, was able to “invade and poison the marriage,” not to mention enrich it. Opposition researchers would spend years trying to get their hands on an email such as the one the McDonnells willingly proffered in court to prove their point. The bombshell, from Maureen McDonnell to Williams, on the occasion of a small earthquake near Richmond in 2011, read: “I just felt the earth move and I wasn’t having sex!!!!”
Excess exclamation points were hers, as was much, though not all, of the relationship between the McDonnells and Williams, then the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc., which made a dietary supplement. She reaped much of the showy goods: Oscar de la Renta gowns, Louis Vuitton bags and a Rolex to give to her (estranged, we are now told) husband. The governor got cash to help him with failing investments.
The McDonnells must have no other way out. Politicians don’t make a habit of shattering their own marriages in public. That’s what reporters are for. Before our eyes, the McDonnells, who used to be Ozzie and Harriet, are becoming Brad and Jen. They spent years selling the idea that theirs was a storybook marriage. Now they’re intent on tearing it down for public consumption.
They are spinning a variation on an old story, only the setting is unusual: a husband spending too much time on the job, a wife feeling neglected, and both feeling in need of cash. In walks a wealthy entrepreneur with multiple houses, a plane, an open wallet and a burning need. The rest, in the hands of crafty lawyers, is a Danielle Steel novel in which the last chapter will reveal whether that burning need was for the first lady, for whom no gift was too great, or for help in promoting the dietary supplement Anatabloc.
This has the former governor in the humiliating position of aggressively trying to prove his wife’s infatuation (if not infidelity) with another man to save his hide. If the marriage was all but over, the husband can hardly be expected to know what his infatuated wife was up to, nor would he be sharing in the loot. This is a big leap given that, fake or not, a functioning marriage was on display for four years. In one picture taken when Jonnie had lent the couple his Ferrari, the McDonnells looked like two crazy kids in love about to take a spin with the top down. Who knew there was trouble in paradise?
One person we can be sure isn’t on board with this strategy is Williams himself, even though it could help him: Better to be the besotted fool than a conniving con artist buying government favors. But on the stand, Jonnie, who has immunity, said Bob McDonnell was aware of and benefited from everything as he was hardly going to write checks the man in charge didn’t know about.