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Former Va. Gov. McDonnell's Trial Opens With Claims Of 'Poisoned' Marriage


Just two summers ago, Bob McDonnell was a rising Republican star. He was governor of Virginia, and he had been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. He was chosen to speak at the Republican national convention.

BOB MCDONNELL: Washington today has a surplus of rhetoric and a deficit of leadership and results.

SHAPIRO: That was then. This week, former governor McDonnell and his wife are in federal court in Richmond facing charges of public corruption. Jeff Schapiro - no relation - is covering the trial for the Richmond Times Dispatch. He's been in courtroom today. Hi, Jeff.


SHAPIRO: Describe the charges against the former governor and his wife.

SCHAPIRO: Simply put, the former governor and former first lady are accused of trading on his high office - specifically, taking more than $165,000 in cash, stock, loans, gifts from the head of a company that manufactured a somewhat disputed dietary supplement. In return for this gentleman's alleged beneficence, the government claims that Gov. McDonnell lent the full weight and prestige of his office, specifically to promote this product, Anatabloc, a dietary supplement extracted from tobacco.

SHAPIRO: And you tweeted today that opening arguments in the case were smoking. It sounds like there were elements of a soap opera in the opening arguments. Describe what happened.

SCHAPIRO: Well, the former governor, when he ran for governor, represented his family as essentially the Cleavers, bustling and wholesome. And five years later, now running for his life, his lawyers are depicting the McDonnells as the Louds, bitter and dysfunctional - specifically, the governor and Mrs. McDonnell's marriage was in shambles and that the head of this company, who was allegedly seeking the support and favors of the state, poisoned the McDonnells marriage. At one point, this fellow - his name is Jonnie Williams, Sr., was described by a defense lawyer as Mrs. McDonnell - Maureen McDonnell's favorite playmate.

SHAPIRO: Describe how all of this is going over in Virginia. I mean, we're not talking about a state like Illinois, where so many recent governors have stood trial and gone to prison. Is this making huge splash?

SCHAPIRO: This is very much out of character with Virginia's history and tradition. Gov. McDonnell is the first Virginia governor accused of corruption. This, of course, seems to be commonplace in any number of states. Virginia fancies itself as having a somewhat storied view of its elective leaders. However, in recent years, we have been seeing more and more of this. A couple of years ago, a member of the legislature was convicted of corruption. There's a second criminal investigation going on here in southwest Virginia, looking into the possibility of a legislator trading a high-paying job in return for a judgeship for his daughter.

SHAPIRO: If former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife are convicted of corruption, what kind of a punishment could they be facing?

SCHAPIRO: The McDonnells could face penalties of 20 years or more. There had been efforts by the government early in this administration to reach a plea agreement with the governor. However, that was something Bob McDonnell was determined not to do. He was determined to complete his term. And he says, he is determined to exonerate himself.

SHAPIRO: That's Jeff Schapiro, who writes about politics for the Richmond Times Dispatch. He's now covering the trial of former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. Thanks, Jeff.

SCHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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