RICHMOND, Va. — Former 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 various times, speaking in a melancholy tone and taking long pauses 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 had 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 said “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,” he wrote.
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 different times that day.
At first, he thought they shared a natural bond over dietary supplements — Maureen McDonnell had sold nutritional supplement for decades as a part-time business. She was crushed when he 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’s lawyers have argued McDonnell 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. According to previous testimony and evidence, Bob McDonnell had signed the catering contract and made two payments, and a refund check from the catering company was made out to Maureen McDonnell.
McDonnell also testified that he often heard Maureen McDonnell yelling at her assistants, usually over little things.
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.
The tension at the governor’s mansion and his futile attempts to smooth it over hurt his marriage, which was already strained by his frequent absences and his wife’s struggle with her public role as first lady, McDonnell said.
McDonnell said that early in his career, he devoted time to being a state legislator, Army Reservist and lawyer in private practice. He said his wife resented his long stretches away from the family and the tension escalated as his political career took off. Things got worse when the family moved from their longtime Virginia Beach home to Richmond after he became attorney general in 2006.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)