The long and downward-spiraling tale of Virginia ex-governor Bob McDonnell – worthy of a Shakespeare or more likely the script writer for an afternoon soap – is headed for its pathetic legal conclusion.
The 25-day federal corruption trial of Mr. McDonnell and his wife Maureen, their adult children in the courtroom, heard seven hours of closing arguments Friday. It’ll go to the jury next Tuesday.
“The emotional, pointed and sometimes scathing presentations left all in the packed seventh-floor courtroom of Judge James R. Spencer drained,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. “That included the former governor, who stood with his head bowed and hands clasped, in an almost prayerful moment of reflection, as the jury exited for the day.”
The essence of the 14-count bribery and conspiracy case is that the McDonnells took $165,000 in loans and gifts – designer clothes, a Rolex watch, golf outings, use of a Ferrari, $15,000 in catering for their daughter’s wedding – in return for helping the promoter of a dietary supplement.
The promoter who became the McDonnell’s benefactor was Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific. The company's tobacco-based dietary supplement was called “Anatabloc.”
"He was on the Jonnie Williams gravy train, and he and Jonnie Williams had a deal: Do what you can when opportunities arise and I'll keep paying," prosecutor David Harbach told the jury.
The McDonnells held an official launch party for Anatabloc in the governor's mansion, and used their influence to promote the product any way they could, according to federal prosecutors. Maureen McDonnell touted it at medical conferences, and aides believed the governor wanted them to get it covered by the state health care plan.
In the courtroom, each of the McDonnells had their own set of lawyers.
They couldn’t possibly have conspired to commit corrupt acts, they (and some of their five children) argued, because their marriage was on the rocks and they were barely speaking.
“I was heartbroken that maybe this was the end of our marriage, because we just couldn’t communicate anymore,” Bob McDonnell said in his testimony.
“This was not a marriage,” he testified. “I felt hatred, felt anger from her.” (Maureen McDonnell didn’t testify.)
Maureen McDonnell’s accepting lavish gifts may have been “tacky,” one of her lawyers said, but it wasn’t illegal because as the state’s unelected first lady she had no authority to make policy decisions.
"Jonnie didn't get anything. Nothing,” Henry Asbill, one of Bob McDonnell’s lawyers said in closing arguments. “This case is all 'quid,' no 'quo.'"
"Their humiliation has been severe and it has been nationwide," Mr. Asbill said. "This was a troubled, dysfunctional marriage."
McDonnell said he and Maureen are living apart, and their marriage is “basically on hold,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The former governor says he has been staying with his priest at the rectory at St. Patrick’s Church since about a week before the trial began.
Prosecutor Michael Dry said the testimony "is salacious and sad, but at the end of the day it just doesn't matter."
“Why would he do it?” Mr. Dry asked. “Why would he corrupt his office? The answer is simple: He didn’t think he’d get caught.”
Bob McDonnell was a popular governor once considered a rising star in the Republican Party. He had chaired the Republican Governors Association, and he was on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election. Now, he faces years in prison if convicted.
Star Scientific ultimately stopped selling Anatabloc under pressure from the US Food and Drug Administration, which said claiming it could treat a range of diseases was illegal.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.