Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen went to trial this week, six months after the couple was indicted for accepting gifts to promote a rich businessman's diet supplements. And while the details of the case are already weird, the couples defense is that Mrs. McDonnell was an attention starved and lonely wife who had a "crush" on their benefactor.
As The New York Times reported, the McDonnells' lawyers made clear on Tuesday that their defense would rest on the notion that Maureen McDonnell allowed wealthy CEO Jonnie Williams to pay for extravagant shopping sprees and catering for her daughter's wedding because she was infatuated with him, not because she and her husband were willing to be bribed. Her lawyer said Williams was “Maureen’s favorite playmate," and “Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams had a relationship some would consider improper for two people not married.” The two exchanged 1,200 texts over two years.
John Brownlee, the former governor's lawyer, really pushed the Betty Draper image. He described how McDonnell's dedication to his work as a public servant kept him away from home and tore apart their marriage. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch described his testimony (emphasis added):
“She said she hated him,” Brownlee told the jury.
“He did everything he could to help Maureen and give her confidence and self-esteem,” Brownlee said, but there wasn’t enough time spent at home, or enough money.
The result, said Brownlee, was “a rift so wide” that “an outsider could invade and poison the marriage.”
And in case it wasn't completely clear that the former governor was just trying to do his job and please a needy wife, Brownlee also explained that "Maureen hated him for not being around, for serving the public night and day and not having anything left for her."
There are two reasons why a grown woman might allow herself to be portrayed as a desperate school girl with, as her lawyer put it, a "crush": it's the truth and will keep you out of jail, or it will keep you out of jail. The couple could be sentenced to 20 years in prison if they're found guilty of conspiring to accept gifts for favors. But the McDonnells are arguing that their marriage was so fractured they couldn't conspire to do anything, let alone accept favors.
The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber, argued that “this was always just a business relationship, nothing more,” citing financial exchanges between Williams and Bob McDonnell. The government's star witness is Williams, who is being offered full immunity for testifying against the couple.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.