The DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) is alive with the sounds of scandal as the corruption trial of former VA Governor Robert McDonnell plays on in Richmond. Every day, another shocker–from fraudulent bank statements to designer frocks; it is—for Democrats at least—a celebration of schadenfreude. This is, you may remember, the man who during the gubernatorial campaign positioned himself and his family as exemplars of Christian piety and values (the number of crosses displayed on witness cleavages is stunning) and later supported draconian regulations to shut down abortion clinics (all in the name of women’s health, of course) and required that women undergoing the procedure submit to vaginal ultrasounds(!). Now the couple is facing decades of prison time if convicted of, as the Washington Post blandly puts it, “illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a wealthy Richmond area businessman who sought special treatment from state government.”
For me, whether or not he’s found guilty is beside the point (although I hope he is). What’s so striking is the creativity of his legal team, which is basing its entire case on the histrionics of his wife (an unelected official). Apparently, Maureen was a piece of work, a modern day Lady Macbeth with a taste for extravagant accessories and a “crush” on Mr. Williams (who, by the way, was given his immunity for his testimony). Their marriage, it is suggested, was so frayed that the governor could not possibly have conspired with her in illegal activities. Wow, so much for spousal privilege! If they weren’t estranged before the trial, they certainly will be after.
It’s easy to mock Maureen McDonnell, a bottle-blond, former Redskins cheerleader with a face that launched a thousand quips. But I wonder if the strategy might backfire. The denigration of this woman amounts to domestic abuse and shaming (it is her husband’s legal strategy, after all) and may indeed prejudice the jury in her favor, whatever she might have done. And what about Mrs. Jonnie Williams? How must she feel hearing that the governor’s wife was sweet on her husband? Does he usually attempt to seduce his victims or was this a one-time-only event?
Following the money is one thing, but making this woman pay is quite another. Maureen McDonnell may deserve a conviction, but not the gleeful, cynical bullying.