Delivering a tearful apology before a packed courtroom, former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell said she accepted responsibility for the scandal that engulfed the Governor’s Mansion Friday, moments before a federal judge sentenced her to 12 months and one day in prison.
For the first time in two years, Mrs. McDonnell publicly addressed her role in the unprecedented corruption case, saying she alone allowed a serpent to enter the Executive Mansion – a snake by the name of Henrico businessman Jonnie Williams.
“The venom from that serpent has poisoned my marriage, my family, and this Commonwealth that I love,” Mrs. McDonnell told the court. “I started a chain offense that I blame no one but myself.”
The former first lady and former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell are accused of accepting $177,000 in gifts, getaways and loans from Williams, trading favors for access to top state officials.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer allowed Mrs. McDonnell to remain free from prison, pending the conclusion of her appeal. The former first lady pleaded for leniency, saying her husband’s sentence of 24 months answered her earlier prayers.
“I want to thank you for showing mercy to my husband,” Mrs. McDonnell said in her statement, “I requested that if someone needed to be made an example of, I would rather it be me.”
Mrs. McDonnell said she waited since the early days of the investigation to break her silence, but defense counsel advised her not to discuss the case for months.
“I have waited for a day like this where I could apologize,” McDonnell said. “I would ask you to consider the punishment I’ve suffered at my own hand.”
Following Mrs. McDonnell’s statement, Judge Spencer said he had profound difficulty when he attempted to analyze the defense’s strategy. In a moment of candor, Spencer admitted confusion, saying did not fully understand McDonnell’s true personality.
“It is difficult to get to the heart of who Mrs. McDonnell really is,” Spencer said.
Spencer called attention to a letter he received from two close friends of the McDonnells. The couple wrote that they are glad to know one of two Maureens - the one they know best is warm, and devoted to raising her five children. The other is cold, and prone to fits of rage.
“The letter gave voice to this duality,” Spencer said. “This personality is not a construct from a misinformed media, portraying Mrs. McDonnell like this.”
“How can a person who showed so much grace and kindness 30 years ago possess these tantrums, from an unearned perch of power,” Spencer asked.
“How could someone who taught Bible study, then lie to investigators,” Spencer added. “There seems to be a downward spiral in Maureen McDonnell’s life that is in sync with her husband’s rise.”
But with the harsh words from Spencer came signs of an apparent rekindling in the McDonnells' relationship.
Gov. McDonnell gave his wife a kiss with a smile when he entered the courtroom, sitting directly behind the defense table with their son Bobby, and daughters Rachel and Cailin.
A date for oral arguments concerning Mrs. McDonnell’s appeal will be set within the coming days.