Here in the Nation’s Capital scandals involving elected officials are nothing new. However this kind of acting out has been largely absent in the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland that are home to many members of Congress and those who work for them.
The gifts scandal involving former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife is a current and rather shocking exception. This Governor had a long and unblemished history of public service; he was a very popular Republican in an increasingly blue state and was even on the short list for Vice president in the last election. Therefore, many people are asking; “How could this happen?”
Apparently the short answer for many has been to blame his wife. Bob and Maureen McDonnell have been married for 37 years and appear to have a strong and supportive marriage. And like too many families today, they are now known to have struggled with their finances and debt- perhaps in part because the Governor has spent years in public service rather than the more lucrative private sector. Then immediately after her husband was elected Mrs. McDonnell began to request help from a “generous’ donor with costs associated with keeping up with their new lifestyle- and this is when all the trouble began.
Last week both McDonnells were formally charged with illegally accepting gifts. They acknowledge asking for and receiving these, but claim that no favors were promised by the Governor in return. That is what the prosecution will need to ultimately prove in order to convict- and in the meantime, there are many questions about what the Governor’s involvement was, what he knew, and when he knew it. Mrs. McDonnell has claimed she was the one who made the requests, but when the Governor was offered a plea deal that would spare his wife; he declined, stating that he is completely innocent.
The debate will rage and the defense lawyers will need to come up with a strategy that they believe will acquit the pair. They could shift the full responsibility to the ex first lady as she has already admitted being the one who initiated the first requests. It’s a strategy that could work, could backfire and/or could cause a rift in their union and bring much criticism to him for not shielding his wife.
Whatever the strategy and resulting verdict, who is seen as ultimately responsible will depend on who is being asked the question. The relationship between a long married couple is complicated and the level of influence that have on one another cannot be underestimated. Did Mrs. McDonnell have the power in her relationship to act independently, and to influence her husband’s judgment? Anyone who has ever been married knows the answer to this. In the end it may come down to an acquittal for a man who ignored his better judgment in order to make his wife happy- and paid a high price for it.