RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote a long, forlorn email to his wife three years ago trying to save his marriage, calling her his “soulmate,” yet he also said he grew so weary of her yelling that he began taking refuge in his office late at night rather than go home.
McDonnell testified extensively about his troubled marriage Thursday at his public corruption trial. He and his wife Maureen are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company’s dietary supplements.
The McDonnells say their marriage was broken and that they were barely speaking, let alone engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
McDonnell choked up at times, speaking in a melancholy tone and pausing before answering questions from his lawyer. He became particularly emotional as he described what led him to write his wife on Labor Day 2011, after she rejected his efforts to spend the weekend with her.
“I was heartbroken,” he said, and worried “that this was maybe the end of my marriage.”
He began the email “I love you” but said the weekend “was one of the lowest points of my life.”
He apologized for being absent, but wrote, “I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent.”
Maureen McDonnell never responded, he testified. Meanwhile, he said he learned while preparing for the trial that she had been in contact with Williams four times that day.
At first, he thought his wife and Williams shared a bond over dietary supplements. Maureen McDonnell had sold nutritional supplements for decades as a part-time business. She was crushed when the governor told her it would be inappropriate to continue selling vitamins as first lady, he said.
McDonnell testified that he doesn’t believe his wife had an affair with Williams, but that they had developed an intense, emotional connection to which he had been oblivious.
The former governor said he moved out of the house he shared with Maureen McDonnell a week before trial, and has been living at the rectory in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
“I knew that there was no way I could go home after a day in court ... and revisit things every night with Maureen,” he said.
McDonnell’s lawyers have argued he did nothing more for Williams than he would for any other Virginia businessman.
McDonnell said in April 2011, he told his wife they should start entertaining one or two couples at a time for dinner for the sake of “some sense of normalcy.” Maureen suggested inviting Williams and his wife, Celeste.
“We were friendly,” he said. “I wouldn’t say at that point we were yet friends.”
He said his daughter Cailin dropped by, and the topic of her upcoming wedding came up. A couple of weeks later, McDonnell said he learned Williams wanted to give Cailin a wedding gift — $15,000 to cover catering costs.
“I had to think about it,” McDonnell said. Ultimately, he concluded that it was a gift to his daughter, so it was OK.
The check is one of the gifts prosecutors said the McDonnells received and failed to disclose.
McDonnell also testified that he often heard Maureen McDonnell yelling at her assistants. He told her she shouldn’t treat governor’s mansion employees so badly.
“She would yell at me, say I was taking the staff’s side and I didn’t know what was going on over there,” McDonnell said.
He said the marriage was already strained by his frequent absences and his wife’s struggle with her public role as first lady.
Early in his career, McDonnell said he devoted time to being a legislator, Army Reservist and lawyer. He said his wife resented his long stretches away and the tension escalated as his political career took off. Things worsened when the family moved to Richmond after he became attorney general in 2006.
The former governor also testified about some of gifts he and his family received from Williams, including a $6,500 Rolex watch. The governor said he did not know Williams had purchased it, and thought it was a Christmas present from his wife.
McDonnell also drove Williams’ Ferrari back to Richmond from a free vacation at the businessman’s Smith Mountain Lake house. Throughout the trial, jurors have been shown several photos of McDonnell driving the Ferrari.
McDonnell said he did not ask Williams to provide the car, and he not see his use of the vehicle as a “big deal.” He said he almost never drove as a governor, and his children egged him on to try the pricey car.
“At some point, I’m entitled to be normal,” McDonnell said. “It was fun, I was on vacation.”