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The Most Bizarre Bits To Come Out Of The Trial Of Virginia's Ex-Governor

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court in Richmond, Va., on Thursday.
Steve Helber
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court in Richmond, Va., on Thursday.

The trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife went into closing arguments today. At issue are serious allegations of corruption, but the trial has also unveiled seriously strange details about the McDonnells' personal life.

We haven't given the trial much coverage around here. So, before the jury hands down its verdict, we wanted to catch you up on some of the oddest moments to emerge from the testimony.

-- First Lady Was A 'Nutbag':

One of the recurring themes of the trial has been how Maureen McDonnell — the state's former first lady — was a screamer who terrorized her staff.

On day eight of the trial, McDonnell's chief of staff described her as a "nutbag."

Here's how the Richmond Times-Dispatch recapped that testimony:

"Mary-Shea Sutherland's testimony on day eight of the McDonnells' federal corruption trial portrayed a frustrated first lady placated by Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a free-spending dietary-supplement impresario, then CEO of Star Scientific.

"Sutherland depicted Maureen McDonnell as so undone by her privileged surroundings and financial limitations that the first lady grabbed at gifts, raged at staff, and even falsely accused the Executive Mansion chef of trying to ruin her Christmas by serving 'bad shrimp.'

"The tawdry testimony led some courtroom spectators to roll their eyes, shake their heads and snicker in disbelief."

-- The Letter:

The big strategy in this trial for the defense has been to paint the couple as so dysfunctional and uncommunicative that they could not have possibly formed a conspiracy. Remember, they are accused of taking gifts from the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in exchange for the "prestige of the governorship."

In any case, late in the trial, a letter from McDonnell to his wife was entered into evidence. It is cringe-inducing.

The Associated Press has the whole text. We'll leave you with only one small portion:

"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. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core. I have asked and prayed to God so many times to take this anger away from you and heal whatever hurt is causing it ... some going back years and years. He has not yet answered those prayers."

-- 'Tic Tac Man'

Speaking of the CEO of Star Scientific. Testimony from McDonnell's eldest daughter suggested that Mrs. McDonnell had a "mild obsession" with Jonnie Williams.

The AP wrote at the time of the testimony:

"Jeanine McDonnell said her parents rarely spoke to each other in private, going back decades. She also said her mother developed an unusually close friendship with Williams.

"Bob McDonnell testified that he viewed Williams as a personal friend and was comfortable accepting his gifts because he never sought any favors from him.

"Jeanine McDonnell made clear she no longer thinks highly of Williams, who earlier testified under immunity that he was not friends with the McDonnells and he spent lavishly on them only to gain acceptance for Anatabloc. The immunity agreement bars Williams' prosecution not only for his dealings with the McDonnells, but also for potential securities violations.

"The judge mildly rebuked Jeanine McDonnell when she said she returned a $10,000 check from Williams, intended as a housewarming present, 'once we learned that Jonnie himself was a criminal.' "

Anatabloc, by the way, is the supplement that prosecutors allege the defendants conspired to promote illegally in exchange for money from Williams.

Earlier in the trial, it was revealed that health policy aide Molly Huffstetler referred to Williams mockingly as the "Tic Tac man." According to the Washington Post, Huffstetler also said she would have never met with Williams had the governor not asked her to do so.

-- The Reality Circus:

Perhaps the development that best shows what a circus this trial has been is the names of two big reality TV stars coming into the official court record.

WVEC-TV takes us there:

"Williams has testified that, on at least two occasions, he purchased a $5,000 bottle of cognac while entertaining a group that included the McDonnells.

"One of those occasions — at a restaurant in the lobby of the Four Seasons in New York City — defense attorneys claim Williams also broke out his cellphone and bragged about having the cellphone numbers of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.