Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday his administration did little to help a wealthy businessman who plied his family with gifts and loans other than offer the routine access afforded to any state resident — the cornerstone of his defense against federal corruption charges.
More than three weeks into his trial, Mr. McDonnell took the stand in his own defense Wednesday against charges that he and his wife, Maureen, traded more than $165,000 in gifts and loans for undue access during his time as governor.
Observers have said the case could come down to whether or not jurors see Mr. McDonnell as credible and trustworthy, and he began making his case to them as he tries to avoid attaining the ignominious honor of being the first sitting or former Virginia governor to be convicted of a crime.
Mr. McDonnell and the former first lady have been accused of conspiring to use the governor’s office to promote the business interests of Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the former CEO of nutritional supplement company Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for loans and high-dollar items.
Mr. McDonnell, who was called to the stand at about 3:30 p.m., spent much of his time there Wednesday recounting a generally pleasant middle-class upbringing that eventually culminated in his 2009 election as the state’s 71st governor — a development that put a tremendous strain on his family life.
He said his wife was uncomfortable with the change and was not prepared for her life as first lady.
“I could tell she was not as happy as I was about the result,” he said of his 2009 election.
Part of the McDonnells’ defense hinges on the argument that the couple’s marriage was falling apart when they were purportedly conspiring to trade gifts from Mr. Williams for access, thus precluding a conspiracy.
Defense attorneys set up Mr. McDonnell’s testimony by calling two character witnesses — a high school friend and a college roommate — who described the defendant as truthful, honest and law-abiding.
Other testimony centered on what witnesses described as the dual nature of Mrs. McDonnell — kind and accommodating at one moment, vindictive and impossible to deal with the next.
James Burke, director of the Performance Management Group at Virginia Commonwealth University, said his organization was retained to help rectify the “undue amount of chaos” in the governor’s mansion stemming from Mrs. McDonnell’s unhappiness with her role as first lady.
The possibility of Mrs. McDonnell moving out of the mansion and into the couple’s home in suburban Richmond was briefly discussed, but nothing came of it, Mr. Burke said.
Mr. McDonnell’s testimony is expected to continue Thursday.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports