© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

McDonnell Takes The Stand, Founding Defense On Marital Dysfunction


In the trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen, the court today heard from McDonnell himself for the second day. The couple is charged with conspiring to use their influence on behalf of a businessman who was peddling a nutritional supplement in exchange for gifts that he gave them - gifts exceeding $160,000. Jeff Schapiro is politics columnist for the Richmond Times Dispatch, and he's covering the trial. Welcome to the program, once again.

JEFF SCHAPIRO: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And what has the court heard from former Gov. McDonnell so far?

SCHAPIRO: Well, Bob McDonnell in his second day of testimony, painting a picture of a shattered marriage. For example, reporting has previously been acknowledged in the press that he and his wife are no longer under the same roof. Mrs. McDonnell is living at the family's house in suburban Richmond. The governor is living in the rectory of a Catholic church, a short distance from the federal courthouse where he is standing trial, and cases from the statehouse where he served as governor for four years.

The governor went on a considerable length under the guidance of one of his lawyers, Henry Asbill, about the decline of his marriage and how it had been on hold, essentially, since he had become governor in 2010. However, Mr. McDonnell pointed out that his marriage was under considerable stress from the moment he entered elective politics in 1991 - that Mrs. McDonnell was very uncomfortable with the effects campaigns and elections and government would have on the family's life, in particular, the family's privacy.

SIEGEL: Now we should explain the relevance of all of this testimony about marital discord to the charges at hand. The former governor's defense, I gather, is that his marriage was so dysfunctional and the relationship with Mrs. McDonnell so minimal that they could not have conspired to do anything together, no less peddle influence.

SCHAPIRO: Well, of course, this is a point to which the government argues. Otherwise, and we'll clearly press the governor on it when prosecutors have their go at him. However, one of the more interesting points that the governor made during his testimony today is that Mrs. McDonnell, whose very into vitamins and if you will, the organic lifestyle, at one point unveils herself of a political list that his campaign, then for Attorney General, had handled so that she could solicit people to whom she hoped to sell some of her vitamin products.

SIEGEL: You've been hearing testimony about the state of the then governor's marriage. When the McDonnell's in fact were in the governor's mansion, was there any sense of marital discord?

SCHAPIRO: Oh, not at all. And Mrs. McDonnell frequently accompanied the governor often on some of the most routine appearances that a governor makes. I think it's important also to note that the McDonnell marriage has always been an important data point in Bob McDonnell's political ascent. He's a family values guy. You may remember that in 2009 when he stood for governor, he had to answer for this thesis that he'd written as a law student at Pat Robertson's Regent University, in which he emphasized that marriage is paramount and that federal policies should be crafted to preserve family.

SIEGEL: Did you write in your column that they've watched the Cleavers turn into the Bundys in this case?

SCHAPIRO: That is correct. And it is something that has a lot of people puzzling over, particularly given Bob McDonnell's emphasis on wholesomeness, family values, his ties, of course, to religious, cultural and social conservatives.

SIEGEL: Jeff Schapiro thanks for bringing us up-to-date on the trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell.

SCHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.