- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RICHMOND — The daughter of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell testified that her mother’s depression went back as far as 20 years as her father grew increasingly absorbed in his political career — the latest in a series of uncomfortable disclosures that have laid bare the McDonnells’ most intimate marital troubles as a defense against the federal corruption charges they face.

Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, under questioning from her mother’s lawyers, said Wednesday that former first lady Maureen McDonnell was left largely alone to raise the couple’s five kids. She said that in hindsight she thinks the long baths her mother took and her interest in soap operas were symptoms of her loneliness.

The testimony — which came hours before the defense rested its case — followed a series of dramatic insights into the private life of a very public couple that began on the first day of arguments, when the defense team revealed that Mrs. McDonnell had a “crush” on wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who provided the family with cash and gifts.

Whether jurors, who could get the case as early as Friday, think that the couple was estranged could be central to their deciding whether the McDonnells are guilty of corruption or whether they were communicating so infrequently they were not capable of engaging in a conspiracy to sell the influence of the governor’s office in exchange for gifts and loans remains to be seen.

Because Mrs. McDonnell does not hold elected office, prosecutors essentially have to prove she conspired with the governor or she could be cleared of most charges. And if jurors think Mrs. McDonnell acted independently of her husband in accepting things of value, they could reject the corruption charges he’s facing.

But, guilty or innocent, the portrait of the deeply dysfunctional marriage has forever tarnished the image of Mr. McDonnell, a former Army officer, prosecutor and popular governor once rumored to be on a shortlist for vice president.

Among the key moments of the trial was the nearly one week of testimony from the former governor, during which the defense introduced a deeply personal email Mr. McDonnell wrote in 2011 apologizing to his wife “for all the times I have not been there for you and have done things to hurt you.”

“I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better,” he wrote. “But 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.”

On Wednesday, phone records were introduced indicating that Mrs. McDonnell texted Mr. Williams a handful of times on the day Mr. McDonnell sent her his message, though Mr. McDonnell said his email went unanswered.

Both Mr. McDonnell in the course of the trial and his daughter on Wednesday said the couple tried to put on a public face to mask a marriage that was falling apart.

“I’m not going to air my personal problems in public,” he said at one point. “I was the governor.”

The neglect Mrs. McDonnell felt, the defense argued, eventually drove her to Mr. Williams, who showered her with attention, money and gifts — including a $20,000 New York shopping spree in April 2011 of which Mr. McDonnell testified he was unaware.

But the story of marital strife has drawn open skepticism from prosecutors, who brought witnesses and exhibits to counter the narrative. Pictures from earlier this year were introduced into evidence that showed the McDonnells side by side and holding hands on several trips to the courthouse.

Prosecutors on Wednesday also referenced emails showing loving exchanges between the couple as Mrs. McDonnell was preparing to join her husband on a trade mission to the Far East.

Mr. McDonnell said he’s known Mrs. McDonnell 41 years and the two have been through difficult times, but “to be charged with 14 felonies was just a crushing experience” for the two of them, who have been living separately during the trial. He said they wanted to support each other because they knew in their hearts they had done nothing improper.

The gentle nature of his testimony stood in stark contrast to other points in the trial when former staff members talked freely about Mrs. McDonnell’s fragile mental state and how difficult it was to work with her, with her former chief of staff even labeling her a “nut bag.”

Though the defense tried to blame Mrs. McDonnell for the more than $170,000 in gifts and loans the family accepted from Mr. Williams by claiming the former governor was largely in the dark, observers have suggested that such a strategy also risks the appearance that Mr. McDonnell is sacrificing his wife to save his skin.

Mrs. McDonnell never testified in the case, which could feature closing statements Friday and jury deliberations afterward.

Asked by reporters last week how he felt about discussing his private life on the witness stand, a weary-looking Mr. McDonnell simply said, “No one likes to talk about their marriage in front of the entire country, but this is part of the case.”

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