In his post on the McDonnell trial, Peter Galuszka asked a profound question (something I don’t normally give him credit for!). Does living in the fishbowl of the Governor’s Mansion, with all the attendant pressure, put incalculable strain on a governor’s domestic life? “What should ‘public service’ be and how much should it take from one’s private life,” Peter wondered. “More importantly, why can’t it support men and women who pursue it? Should it be only for the rich?”
I had that question in the back of my mind this morning as I combed through the media reports of yesterday’s events. All newspaper accounts led with the revelation that the marriage between Bob and Maureen McDonnell had essentially broken down, and that Maureen had a “crush” on Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific who sought favors from the McDonnells to help his business. Maureen and Jonnie exchanged 1,200 phone calls and text messages. As William Burck, Maureen McDonnell’s lead defense attorney, said: “Unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell.”
That picture received confirmation from testimony recounted by the Virginian-Pilot. Prosecutors called Cailin McDonnell Young to the stand to recount circumstances surrounding Williams’ offer to cover the $15,000 expense associated with her wedding reception. On cross-examination she revealed the following:
Young said that, during Bob McDonnell’s tenure as governor and his previous service as attorney general, “I hardly ever saw my father.”
“Anytime I wanted to see my dad, I had to go through a scheduler,” she said.
A daughter needs a scheduler to see her dad? That’s brutal. But that’s what family life is like with a man who works 14- to 16-hour days. Life couldn’t have been much better for Maureen McDonnell. For a long time, I regarded her as the heavy in this whole affair. But now I have a keener appreciation of the domestic dynamics. She spent much of her time feeling isolated, frustrated and anxious. She often lost her temper with her husband and staff. For the first time, I feel a modicum of sympathy for her. She was a lonely, stressed-out and unhappy woman.
None of this excuses her actions, much less McDonnell’s alleged failure to exercise full disclosure. But it does provide context. I return to Peter’s question regarding what kind of financial pressure does being governor put on a First Family of modest means? I would expand the question to include, what kind of strain does the time demands of public office put on a family?