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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who says that at one time he got in the habit of working late to escape his wife’s wrath, has once again taken refuge — this time at the rectory in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
That’s where he has been living since about a week before the start of the public corruption trial in which his wife, Maureen, is a co-defendant, McDonnell testified Thursday.
“I knew that there was no way I could go home after a day in court … and revisit things every night with Maureen,” McDonnell said during an often emotional day of testimony that began with an examination of his marriage, which he said is “basically on hold.” McDonnell was expected back on the stand Friday.
McDonnell and his wife have had little interaction during the first 19 days of their trial. They are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company’s dietary supplements.
The couple’s marriage is a key element of the defense, which suggests they could not have engaged in a criminal conspiracy because they were barely communicating.
McDonnell choked up at times, speaking in a melancholy tone and sometimes pausing before answering questions from his lawyer. He became particularly emotional as he described what led him to write a forlorn email to his wife on Labor Day 2011, after she rejected his efforts to spend the weekend with her.
“I was heartbroken,” he said, and worried “that this was maybe the end of my marriage.”
He apologized for being absent so much because of his political career, but wrote, “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.”
Maureen McDonnell never responded, he testified. Meanwhile, he said he learned while preparing for the trial that she had been in contact with Williams four times that day. He also learned from the investigation that his wife and Williams had exchanged 950 phone calls and texts in 2011.
“I was actually hurt” that she was communicating more with Williams than with him, McDonnell said.
McDonnell testified that he doesn’t believe his wife had an affair with Williams, but that they had developed an intense, emotional connection to which he had been oblivious.
The marital tension worsened in late 2011, McDonnell said, when he would often come home to his wife’s overblown complaints about her staff. McDonnell said his wife yelled over the phone at assistants and became angry with him when he told her she shouldn’t treat the staff so badly.
“I got to point where I just couldn’t come home and deal with that,” McDonnell said, so he started staying at the office well into the night to avoid going home.
McDonnell said he and his wife also clashed over how to spend a $25,000 inheritance after her father died. He wanted to use the money to pay down their credit card bills, which were about $75,000 when he took office, while she wanted to buy stock for their five children. After an argument, she wrote a check for the credit card bills and threw it on his desk, McDonnell said.
“That was the wrong decision for my wife and our marriage,” McDonnell said.
He said he sensed her resentment, and a few months later she asked Williams for a $50,000 loan and used more than half of it to buy Star Scientific stock without his knowledge, McDonnell said.
“I was astounded,” he said of learning later about the loan.
McDonnell also didn’t know at the time that Williams had paid for a $6,500 Rolex watch Maureen gave him for Christmas, he said. He suspected the watch was used, and maybe even fake, because it did not come with any warranty information. He said the watch was “gaudy” and he never would have bought it for himself, but he thanked his wife anyway.
“I was not going to tell her what to do with her money,” he said. “I’d made that mistake before.”