Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, once considering a rising star in the Republican Party and a potential running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012, has quickly fallen from grace.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are currently on trial for corruption charges stemming from their acceptance of $165,000 in gifts during their time in the governor’s mansion from Jonnie R. Wiliams, the former CEO of pharmaceutical company Star Scientific. Prosecutors allege that Williams gave the McDonnells a variety of lavish gifts, including paying for wedding catering and a wedding dress for McDonnells’ daughter, a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor, expensive vacations, golf outings, and more. In turn, the McDonnells are accused of using the governor’s office to promote William’s company’s products, particularly the dietary supplement Anatabloc.
The trial, which began at the end of July, has turned into a soap opera-like event with several twists and turns and even something of a love triangle. Here are some of the wackiest developments to emerge from the proceedings thus far.
1. Maureen McDonnell’s attorney has blamed it all on their “broken marriage,” saying Maureen accepted gifts because she had a “crush” on Williams.
Maureen McDonnell’s attorney William Burck has said that Maureen had a “crush” on Williams that led her to accept the expensive gifts. Bob McDonnell’s attorneys have said that Bob pleaded with Maureen to help “save their marriage,” and that Williams exploited the rift in the couple’s marriage. The defense further argues that “unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell.”Because of the broken marriage defense, the real nature of the McDonnells’ marriage has become central to the case. John Piscitelli, a family friend and stockbroker, testified that he had seen the couple dance together “in a loving way” at a recent joint 60th birthday party. However, upon cross-examination, he admitted that the couple had spent most of the night apart and had only danced together at the request of their daughter, Cailin.
The Washington Post reports that Bob and Maureen McDonnell have been seen arriving and departing from the trial separately.
2. Williams denies the love triangle and denies even knowing Maureen was interested in him.
According to the Roanoke Times, Williams testified at the trial that not only did he not have an affair with Maureen McDonnell, he even appeared to reject her interest, saying: “I didn’t know she had any interest in me until this past week.” However, evidence during the trial shows that there were more than 1,200 calls and text messages between Williams and Maureen McDonnell from April 2011 to February 2013.
3. Maureen once cornered Ann Romney to try to pitch her on one of Star Scientific’s drugs.
Former McDonnell political aide Phil Cox testified that Maureen McDonnell had asked for a meeting with Mitt Romney to discuss one of Star Scientific’s drugs, Anatabloc. “It wasn’t going to happen,” Cox testified. However, he added that later on, Maureen cornered Ann Romney on the Romney campaign bus and told her that she thought Anatabloc could be a possible cure for her multiple sclerosis.
In another Romney connection, The Washington Post reported in April that Mitt Romney donated $10,000 to Bob McDonnell’s legal defense fund. The Post quoted Ron Kaufman, a longtime Romney friend and adviser, as saying, “Mitt has a very special place in his heart for Governor McDonnell.”
4. Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff referred to Maureen as a “nut bag” on the witness stand.
Mary-Shea Sutherland, who served as chief of staff to the former first lady, testified at the trial that Maureen was difficult to work for, and often screamed at Sutherland and other employees. Sutherland said that Maureen’s yelling sometimes attracted the attention of the governor’s security detail, who checked on her to make sure she was okay. Sutherland also admitted referring to the former first lady as a “nut bag.”
On the witness stand, Sutherland also said that she had used her credit card to buy inaugural attire for Maureen McDonnell because the first lady said her own card was maxed out. She also once gave the first lady a $6,000 loan because the first lady said she and the governor were “buried in debt.”
5. The McDonnells’ daughter, Cailin, cried on the witness stand, saying that her wedding “now has this black cloud over it.”
Cailin McDonnell Young was called to testify, as prosecutors allege that Williams paid a $15,000 catering bill for Young’s wedding and also paid for her wedding dress. On trial, The Washington Post reports that Young cried and said she regretted having accepted the gifts, saying “Our wedding now has this black cloud over it. … You can’t look back at it with a happy memory.”