maureen_mcdonnellby James A. Bacon

The full dimensions of the McDonnell family tragedy came into clearer focus yesterday as attorneys representing Maureen and Bob McDonnell launched the defense phase of the corruption trial… by throwing Maureen under the bus. Defense witness Janet Kelly, Secretary of the Commonwealth in the McDonnell administration, described as “diva-ish” and so difficult with work under that her staff threatened to quit en mass.

Maureen’s behavior was so out of control that those in the governor’s inner circle wonder if she suffered from a mental illness. The picture painted by Kelly was of a woman who was isolated, miserable and unable to grow into the job. Kelly’s relationship with Maureen had deteriorated to the point she could not work with her even before Bob took office, but she did evince some sympathy for the first lady. Breaking down in tears at one point, she said she did not want to “pile on.” As the Washington Post summarized her testimony:

Maureen McDonnell repeatedly told her that being first lady was not something she had wanted. She was uncomfortable with public speaking and, in her first year in the mansion, lost both her parents and sent her youngest children to college — all while essentially losing her husband to his job.

“She would say, ‘I didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t what I wanted,’ ” Kelly testified. “It was a lot for her.”

Perhaps most germane to our understanding of the relationship between the former governor and his wife — defense attorneys said the marriage was in such bad shape that the two could not have conspired to swap gifts for favors with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Wiliams Sr. — Kelly testified that the displays of affection in public between Bob and Maureen hid a deeper alienation. In private settings, she would rage at him.

Bacon’s bottom line: More pieces are falling into place. Bob McDonnell was an ambitious man. What he wanted out of life — political fame and success — wasn’t what Maureen wanted. Family finances were a mess before the family entered the governor’s mansion, made worse by extensive borrowing during the gubernatorial campaign. Maureen was ill equipped to fill the role of first lady; she didn’t ask for the job but she was stuck with it. Unable to handle the stress of the position on top of the deteriorating family finances, she flew into rages, alienated many of the people around her, including her husband, which made her situation even worse. She gravitated to Williams, who plied her with attention, gifts and what seemed to be friendship. (Kelly’s testimony supports my observation in a previous post that her behavior seemed indicative of clinical depression, a phenomenon that takes on a life of its own.) It’s a sad story, even a tragic one.

None of this excuses breaking the law (if laws are shown to be broken). None of it exonerates the McDonnells for showing terrible judgment by accepting gifts from Williams. Wrong is wrong, whatever the psychological explanation. But it does provide a context for understanding and interpreting what happened. And the picture we’re getting is of a vulnerable woman preyed upon by Williams to extract political favors from the administration.

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18 responses to “Throwing Maureen under the Bus”

  1. Even if she was the source of a lot of the problems (though clearly Bob was at fault too and made a lot of poor decisions), it doesn’t seem particularly gentlemanly or noble to throw one’s wife under the bus as harshly and wholeheartedly as both of their lawyers have done. Where’s the upstanding Bob McDonnell accepting responsibility as the leader and taking the blame to keep his family out of the line of fire? The relationship must really be in tatters – or else he (and maybe she?) must value his future reputation and career more than the reputation of the family.

  2. Good summary. My guess is they concluded it was better to throw her under the bus because if he goes down where will the family ever be again. And it seems she was central to all the stuff going on and Jonnie really did not get any return on his dollar(s).
    I will be surprised if he is convicted but one never knows if the DA has another card to play or not.

  3. the “optics” as they say are just butt ugly. And no, I do not think their relationship is in tatters. I think this is two would-be felons in a cell cooking up what is a plausible defense for gullible rubes… of which you-know-who is vying for top honors!


    jesus H. Keerist – Bacon – get some salt on that hat and get it over with!

  4. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    “McDonnell family tragedy”

    Spending more money than your 1 percenter salary can afford? Family tragedy.

    Not being able to afford adequate food or shelter. Culture of laziness/bad values.

    Carry on.

    1. billsblots Avatar

      at $175,000 he’s hardly a 1%’er, especially with all the campaign and entertainment expenses.

      1. what is that the Conservatives keep lecturing everyone about – “live within your means and don’t expect others to fix it when you screw up”?

        You’re setting a pretty low bar there guy … “entertainment” – geeze

        why didn’t Jonnie williams pay for Campaign and entertainment expenses like others do – and report it ?

        you know – it sucks big time when the folks who talk about manning up and being responsible for yourself and all that stuff -turn out to be such hypocrites.

        1. billsblots Avatar

          what are you talking about larry, what income do you have to achieve to reach the 1%?
          the allegation was that they are top 1%’ers. they aren’t and never have been.
          you do have trouble sticking to the topic, every post of yours launches from some deep set bitterness, staying on topic is optional.

          1. Bill – we’re talking about the “values” the 1% posit about being responsible for one’s self …..

            and where did I say the the RPV and tea pots could not defend themselves?

            another hackneyed interpretation?


            remember again – there are legal issues and there are ethics.. and it’s the latter that just are, no matter how you want to put it, a week-old dead mackerel on the beach.

  5. Zilliacus Avatar

    Imagine if R. Creigh Deeds had been elected Governor instead in 2009?

    None of this would have happened.

    1. The 15-person million dollar defense team in action:

      “A woman who has had 5 kids and helped raise them to adulthood just went off the rails.. and a man who held stellar leadership positions in the General Assembly, was Attorney General and then Gov, a man of unblemished sterling character, was a hapless victim to the horror and could not escape – her “illness”.”

      ” Members of the Jury – you are looking at a man who had 5 kids with good old Maureen here but then the old bat, she went totally rogue on him”… Hell’s Bells everyone in the Governors mansion was ready to flee by Gawd. Bob could not even figure out what to do about US 460…

      “It’s a modern-day tragedy A man can only do his best and unfortunately, the fates conspired wickedly against a good man.

      If you convict poor Bob here – a new standard for judging politicians will be created – that no matter how much they achieve, how hard they work, how perfect their hair looks, the wife can screw it all up in a New York (er make that a Richmond) minute!

      “Please stand up for the good men in this world who struggle to do good no matter how many wifely alligators are hanging off their rump…

      If the wife throws fits, you must acquit!

      Wait! Wait! this news just breathlessly in from an unnamed source (of course):

      Madam Maureen has been rushed to an undisclosed health care facility far away, when she began laughing uncontrollably and hysterically and could not stop – a copy of the defense strategy was said to be found lying at her feet…

    2. billsblots Avatar

      Why, because his son would have killed him first?

  6. […] Rebellion has a good post on the McDonnell trial here.  Some good comments […]

  7. billsblots Avatar

    They really may be in tough financial straits, aren’t both Maureens wearing the same gray suit?

    1. Any idea why Maureen the sister – who is reportedly worth 500K to a million allowed her Bro to get a loan from Williams instead of her providing it or signing for it?

      it seems inexplicable what McDonnell did when he was actively involved with his sister in the two properties.

      it sounds bizarre…

      that’s the defense’s biggest problem in my view. the story makes no sense.

      testimony says they were paying off their debt… sister had money… WTF?

  8. billsblots Avatar

    And in news that shocks no one, larryg has decreed that no member of the Tea or Republican parties may be allowed to present evidence in their defense in a criminal trial, revoking 1000 years tradition in English-based law allowing for the protection of the individual against the state.

  9. Richard Avatar

    If you’re the McDonnells the main thing is to get off. Who knows what the truth of intent is anyway? If they get off, they can reshape the story so they don’t look so pathetic, and they will have lots of supporters out there who will back up whatever story they put out. If they don’t get off, the only story will be that he was corrupt and guilty and she was pathetic.

    I imagine the lawyers coming up with this story for the jury and deciding (however embarrassing, pathetic and fantastic) that it was the best shot at getting off – the main thing. I imagine them setting down with the Governor and First Lady for a long heart to heart conversation, going over all the facts that were likely to come out, and convincing them that this was the way to go. It must be hard to do for both of them, but it may be successful, and if so, at least they will have avoided being guilty.

    Good luck to them! They certainly have enough problems without being sent to prison.

    1. exactly! They literally are giving up virtually EVERYTHING so they can say -they were found “innocent” … exactly… They both look like perfect idiots.

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