Prosecutors and defense attorneys ended the fifth week of the federal corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell with their closing statements and, as a reward for not vomiting or bursting into tears at being reminded of it all, the long-suffering jury was given a reprieve in the form of the holiday weekend and directed to come back at 9:30 Tuesday morning for instructions. Since they are down to one alternate juror, we hope that no more than one of them decides a life on the run is better than having to deliberate on the distasteful details of this case for a single minute. We are on the eve of Verdict Watch in the Trial of the Century of the Summer.
Bob McDonnell entered the week with a fresh scandal ignited by his admission on the stand that he’d moved out of his house and into the rectory of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. (Shame on you, Richmond Times-Dispatch, for not having enough dedication to your hometown scandal to stake out the McDonnell family home every night. You call yourselves journalists? You should have been on to this a month ago.) Obviously, “choirboy” is preferable to “crooked governor” when you’re looking to make an impression on a jury that holds your freedom in its hands, but when taking this route to reputation repair, it’s best to first check that your priest/roomie does not appear in court records to fall into one of the categories of people you did your best to shame and push to the margins of society with your regressive social policies while you were in office.
We salute Bob for shaking off the gay cohabitation story and staying on message during cross-examination, continuing the portrayal of his wife as mentally unbalanced and combative enough to endanger their marriage. This is the most crucial element of the McDonnell defense strategy: If Maureen’s behavior had driven the couple so far apart that they couldn’t speak to each other, let alone conspire to smash open the snake oil gift piñata, Maureen could have been thwacking away at Jonnie Williams until the lawn was covered with ugly white handbags and beach house generators without breaking a single law. A humble first lady, after all, has no official influence of her own to sell.
With no one disputing the tally of cash and prizes that flowed from Jonnie to the McDonnells like rich brown tobacco juice from a leaky spittoon, the trial’s closing arguments focused on what both sides were after in the transaction. Bob’s attorney Henry Asbill insisted that while Jonnie might have turned on the tap expecting special help with his dodgy supplement business from the governor, he didn’t get any (“This case is all quid, no pro, no quo”), and besides the real issue wasn’t the help Jonnie totally didn’t get from the governor but some weird never-was romance between him and Maureen that seems completely one-sided if it existed at all. Maureen’s lawyer, maybe worried that not enough had been said about her alleged crush, said that his client was “gaga for Jonnie,” and she promoted his bogus pills because she is “a fanatic about nutraceuticals” and not because of the pile of designer clothes he Pretty-Womaned up for her in New York.
The prosecution gamely attempted to redirect the jury’s attention to the case’s central issue, urging them to look past the defense’s tales of marital dysfunction and lofty rhetoric about the office once held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Instead, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Harbach asked jurors to focus on the damage done to that office by the McDonnells. “This is bribery. This is corrupt. Don’t let it stand.”
Nice try, Dave, but this octopus has one too many sexy tentacles to really be about anyone breaking the law anymore. We’re sure the McDonnell jurors will do their duty and render an impartial verdict based on whether they believe Maureen lay awake every night in the governor’s mansion, longing to be a tobacco man’s wife.
You can follow Beth on Twitter but her influence is not for sale.