RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's former governor said he thought his marriage might be over after reading portions of a September 2011 letter to his wife in federal court Thursday.
He wrote the e-mail after scheduling a rare weekend at home with his wife but instead experienced her "fiery anger" that staffers in the governor's mansion had testified about earlier in the ongoing corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell.
"I have made many mistakes in my life which I wish I could fix. I am sorry for all the times I have not been there for you and have done things to hurt you. I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But 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," according to the e-mail displayed overhead during the trial in U.S. District Court here.
Bob McDonnell is in his second day of testimony in his own defense. He and his wife are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from wealthy businessman Jonnie Williams, then chief executive of Virginia-based Star Scientific.
A year after the governor's post-Labor Day e-mail, Bob McDonnell and his wife were spending the long holiday weekend with Williams and five others at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Williams spent $36,000 on that vacation, including golf on the resort's course and chartering a yacht, an FBI agent testified last week.
The day Bob McDonnell sent his wife that emotional e-mail, he said his wife did not respond. He later found out that Maureen McDonnell had communicated with Williams four times the same day.
The defense has characterized the first lady as the one who solicited luxury goods and financial help from Williams. But the government indicted both Maureen and Bob McDonnell, accusing them of promoting the products of Williams' company in exchange for Williams' largess.
Bob McDonnell said he either didn't know immediately about many of Williams' gifts and loans or didn't consider them a problem because Williams hadn't asked for any favors. Virginia laws are lax on gifts to public officials but say they must disclose anything valued at more than $50 or $100 total from a company or individual.
Among Bob McDonnell's explanations:
• A $50,000 loan. The governor said he didn't learn about this May 2011 loan, the first of three, until a month later after his wife had spent the money, so he didn't want to raise her ire. Williams testified that he told Bob McDonnell of his plans in advance.
• A designer shopping spree. He knew nothing about Williams' April 2011 shopping trip to designer showrooms in New York, he said. His wife had told him that she got a couple of dresses and didn't say Williams picked up the almost $20,000 tab.
• Use of Williams' Ferrari. At the time Bob McDonnell drove the sports car back to the Richmond area from Williams' vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Va., he had not been behind the wheel of a car in two years, he said. He wanted to be normal and thought the drive was fun.
Maureen McDonnell's team of defense lawyers has said that the former Virginia first lady won't take the stand herself. But she now has to listen to her husband dissect their marital woes and their finances in public.
Previous witnesses have called Maureen McDonnell angry, unstable, even potentially mentally ill. For the most part, she has stared off into space in the courtroom as they talked about her demeanor.
She rejected the idea of counseling while Bob McDonnell was governor because she thought any visits would become public, her husband said. Bob McDonnell also said he didn't think his wife was having an affair with Williams but that the two did have a strong emotional relationship.
Bob McDonnell said he liked Williams and thought he was charming when he met the CEO in 2009. Later, he had no problems with his wife's friendship because she was in a better mood after he was around.
Though the former governor did not say he has split from his wife of 38 years, Bob McDonnell testified that he has been staying with his parish priest since about a week before the trial started July 28 so he could immerse himself in his court case.
His marriage is on hold and probably has been since 2011, he said.
Maureen McDonnell and Williams bonded over vitamins, her passion and at-home business for 30 years before Bob McDonnell became governor, the former governor said. Bob McDonnell asked his wife to quit her part-time work when he became head of the state.
Williams' company sold two dietary supplements — CigRx, designed to mimic nicotine's effect on the brain and help with smoking cessation, and Anatabloc, which was touted as having anti-inflammatory properties.
In the 90 minutes that Bob McDonnell was on the stand Wednesday, he said that he had not given Star Scientific any more consideration than any other business in Virginia — no grants, no appointments to boards, no press conferences, no press releases from his office. He'd never even visited the Glen Allen, Va., offices of the company, which changed its name in June to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RCPI) and moved its headquarters to Sarasota, Fla.
The McDonnells' private home is less than 5 miles away in Glen Allen, a Richmond suburb where they moved in 2006 after Bob McDonnell was elected attorney general.
Maureen McDonnell disliked the shift from local campaigning as a Virginia Beach, Va., member of the state House of Delegates to the glare of running for a statewide office, Bob McDonnell said as he continued his court testimony Thursday.
They had lived 21 years in Virginia Beach. It was where their roots were, he said.
"I want a relationship. I want more time," the former governor said he heard from his wife. As a delegate and a member of the Army Reserves, he already was away from home more than 100 days a year and said he and Maureen started to develop separate lives as he became more and more "emotionally unavailable."
But Bob McDonnell was a rising star in conservative politics, squeaking out a win of less than 350 votes in his 2005 state attorney general's race but winning his 2009 race for governor against the same opponent by almost 18 percentage points. In 2012 while he was serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney considered him as a potential running mate.
Publicly, life looked good. Privately, Bob McDonnell said he avoided the problems with his wife, spending 470 days away from home in 2011 and 2012 because of his state and national work.
That is the crux of the defense teams' strategy: The McDonnells largely led separate lives and weren't communicating, so they could not have conspired to use the governor's office to enrich themselves because they were barely speaking to one another.
Before the trial began July 28, the McDonnells had petitioned the judge to grant them separate trials.
When the motion was denied, the McDonnells surprised trial watchers by arriving at and leaving the federal courthouse separately and sitting separately in the courtroom surrounded by their own separate teams of lawyers.
Nick Ochsner also reports for WVEC-TV, Hampton-Norfolk, Va.; Joanie Vasiliadis also reports for WUSA-TV, Washington. Contributing: Peggy Fox, WUSA-TV, Washington; The Associated Press