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McDonnell Trial: Former Virginia Governor, Wife Are Living Separately, He Reveals on Stand

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Former Governor Bob McDonnell revealed intimate details about the problems plauging his marriage both in the past and present, including the fact that he and Virginia's former First Lady are no longer living together. (Published Thursday, Aug 21, 2014)

    The latest shocking revelation in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, came in court Thursday, as McDonnell testified the couple is living separately and that he has moved into the rectory of a Richmond church.

    McDonnell said on the stand that he moved out of his home with Maureen the week before the trial started.

    "I knew that there was no way I could go home after a day in court... and revisit things every night with Maureen,'' the former governor said during an often emotional day of testimony that began with an examination of his marriage, which he said is "basically on hold.'' McDonnell is expected to take the stand again Friday.

    On the witness stand Thursday, McDonnell revealed what he's never even talked about with his closest friends -- the story of how his marriage disintegrated, seemingly more with each year in public office.

    Former Virginia Governor, Wife Are Living Separately, He Reveals on Stand

    [DC] Former Virginia Governor, Wife Are Living Separately, He Reveals on Stand
    The latest shocking revelation in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife came in court Thursday, as McDonnell revealed the couple is living separately. News4's Julie Carey. (Published Thursday, Aug 21, 2014)

    McDonnell said that by 2011, when he was governor, he began to work even later in order to stay away from the mansion and what he called his wife's constant complaints.

    The problems came to a head one weekend in early September 2011, when he'd set aside the whole weekend to spend time with Maureen, McDonnell said. When he got home to the mansion, she greeted him with anger, he added.

    "We had a real meltdown [that] Friday," the former governor testified.

    "She was yelling at me... she had almost uncontrollable anger," he told jurors. "I was heartbroken that maybe this was the end of our marriage, because we just couldn't communicate anymore."

    That led to a soul-bearing email from McDonnell to his wife, presented in court Thursday.

    "You tell me all the time how bad your life has been with me," he wrote in his email. "I am completely at a loss at how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that that has become more and more frequent and I am so spiritually and emotionally exhausted from getting yelled at."

    Former Gov. Bob McDonnell Takes Stand in Corruption Trial

    [DC] Former Gov. Bob McDonnell Takes Stand in Corruption Trial
    News4's Julie Carey reported from Richmond that former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell had testified in the corruption trial of he and his wife Maureen. (Published Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014)

    A week before the couple's trial began, Bob McDonnell moved into the rectory of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Richmond, because he felt he couldn't go home to his wife after each day in court.

    The priest of that church, Rev. Wayne Ball, wrote in a blog post Thursday about how he felt watching McDonnell answer personal and difficult questions on the stand.

    Ball has also served as a church lawyer and said Thursday that he "saw three words, 'the whole truth,' in an all new light" now, amid the McDonnells' corruption trial.

    "Is there any married person reading this blog who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth?" he wrote. "Is there any person at all who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth about their life?"

    The news that the couple was living separately came after McDonnell testified that as his political career advanced, his relationship with his wife became increasingly strained. Maureen McDonnell grew uncomfortable being in the public spotlight, the former governor testified.

    On the stand, Bob McDonnell admitted to purposely staying away when his marriage became difficult.

    "It would include staying in the office later," he testified.

    McDonnell said that in 2011 and 2012, he frequently went home to find his wife complaining about the staff, a staff he had complete confidence in, and said he couldn't deal with that on top of his other responsibilities.

    "I got to the point that I just couldn't come home to that," he said.

    Asked if he put his marriage on hold, McDonnell paused and then replied, "Yes, I just couldn't make progress."

    But McDonald testified that while he believes his wife had an emotional attachment to former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, she never had a physical relationship with him.

    The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for promoting his company's dietary supplements.

    Defense attorneys have suggested that the McDonnells could not have conspired because their marriage was crumbling and they were barely talking.

    The former governor first took the stand in federal court in Richmond Wednesday afternoon, saying Maureen McDonnell showed anxiety over her new role as first lady the day after he was elected in 2009. He said the morning after the election, his wife seemed upset.

    "She was yelling at me about something. It clearly exhibited some stress of what lay ahead for her in her new role as first lady," Bob McDonnell testified.

    On Thursday, he commented on the difference between Maureen McDonnell's public and private personae, saying, "The public part of the First Lady's office was going well.... The private part was a disaster."

    Previous testimony from governor's mansion staff members alleged that the staffers were upset by the first lady's anger and demands. Earlier this week, lawyers introduced a letter signed by several staff members who threatened to resign if conditions didn't improve.

    McDonnell on Thursday supported previous testimony of his wife's erratic behavior in the governor's mansion, but blamed himself for causing it. He said he tried to help Maureen with the difficulties with mansion staff.

    "I would talk to her about things. She would yell at me," he said.

    McDonnell said he tried to correct his wife when he heard he speak inappropriately to staff over the phone.

    "I'd tell her, 'You just can't treat your staff like that,'" he testified.

    Furthermore, Maureen McDonnell was instructed to put the nutriceuticals distribution business she was so passionate about on hold out of concern over conflicts of interest for the governor.

    As testimony turned to the couple's finances, McDonnell said he made the "wrong decision for my wife and our marriage" when he used Maureen's father's inheritance to pay credit card bills.

    He also testified that Maureen wanted to use her the inheritance to buy stock for their children.

    Testimony then turned to the couple's relationship with Williams, saying that when Williams "piped up" and offered to buy Maureen's inaugural gown, McDonnell "wasn't going to let that happen."

    McDonnell said a designer dress would have been at odds with the struggling economy during the recession, which he'd addressed in campaign.

    He testified that he didn't know about the dresses from the Williams-funded shopping spree for Maureen McDonnell in New York City until after the federal investigation began.

    McDonnell testified he knew Williams was going to show some stores to the then-first lady and her chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, during the April 2011 trip. McDonnell also said he knew his wife planned to look for a dress for their daughter's wedding and maybe for another dress for the wedding weekend. But he said he didn't know Williams spent $20,000 on the dresses until the investigation began.

    The defense also asked McDonnell Thursday why he drove a Ferrari for Jonnie Williams back to Richmond after a three-day weekend with his family at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake home -- a weekend he accepted in order to spend time with his family and something that was customary for donors to offer, he said.

    As governor, McDonnell hadn’t driven in two years and his children egged him on, he said.

    “And look, it was a Ferrari,” he said. “I’d never driven a Ferrari. It was fun.”

    McDonnell explained his wife originally told him Williams had a car he wanted them to drive back for Williams’ daughter.

    He didn’t need the car at Smith Mountain Lake, he said.

    “I had the executive protection unit,” he explained. “They were going to take me anywhere I needed to go, and I wasn’t going anywhere.”

    But he did drive it at the lake, a mile and back from a brunch.

    McDonnell said that he thought Williams' $15,000 gift for the wedding of the McDonnells' daughter Cailin was acceptable.

    "I thought if he wanted to provide that gift to my daughter, that was OK," McDonnell said.

    However, he said he was upset when he learned the refund from the wedding caterer out of the $15,000 Williams gift went to his wife, not his daughter.

    But a new set of golf clubs and a golf bag Williams sent to the McDonnells' son Bobby seemed like too much, McDonnell said. He explained there seemed to be no occasion for the gift, as there was with the wedding.

    McDonnell accepted the blame for not reporting a Notre Dame golf bag Williams later gave him, but said in all of his years of playing golf, his golf bags were never expensive and he wasn't sure of the value. Likewise, when learning Williams hosted his sons for an expensive round of golf, McDonnell said he wasn't accustomed to such prices.

    The former governor also testified that he learned of a $50,000 May 2011 loan from Williams to Maureen just days after their daughter's wedding.

    Maureen McDonnell says she put $30,000 into stock of Star Scientific -- Williams' company -- and $20,000 toward credit, although Bob McDonnell testified he told her there was no need to put that money toward credit at the time.

    The former governor said his wife wanted to buy stock for their children as her father had for them when the McDonnells married.

    With each gift, donation or dinner bought that the defense described, McDonnell made no promises to Williams, he testified.

    Before court was adjourned for the day Wednesday, defense attorneys also asked Bob McDonnell if he had done anything unusual for Williams' company.

    "My administration did nothing for them other than give them access to government," McDonnell said.

    Regarding Williams' presence at events at the governor's mansion, McDonnell said his administration was excited about the 200th anniversary of the mansion and wanted to host as many meetings and events at possible to show it off to as many people as possible.

    McDonnell also testified about his suggestion that Williams meet with Dr. William Hazel.

    In October 2010, when 36 governor's offices were in play for that campaign season, Bob McDonnell traveled to an event in California for candidate Meg Whitman on Williams' private plane.

    Williams was on the plane for the five- to six-hour ride back to Virginia and had a PowerPoint presentation about his company and what it finding out about one of its supplements.

    "I don't remember if he asked or if I offered, but I told him to see Dr. Hazel -- he was the secretary of health and human services," McDonnell said.

    McDonnell testified that he suggested Hazel because he "was the only person on my staff who could really understand what [Williams] was talking about."

    McDonnell said Wednesday his administration did advocate for Virginia businesses when it was in the best interest of the state. As governor, he had control of a discretionary fund he used as he saw fit and he could add line items in the state budget to benefit businesses and let the General Assembly decide.

    McDonnell spoke of the fine line elected officials walk regarding taking gifts and donations from people.

    "If you can't take someone's money one day and vote against their interests the next day, you don't belong in this business," McDonnell said.