RICHMOND — On the day after her husband publicly apologized for accepting gifts and loans from a wealthy dietary supplement executive, Maureen McDonnell tearfully summoned her manicurist for a late-night visit to the historic governor’s mansion of Virginia.
The July 2013 apology had been an extraordinary step for then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) after months of pressure from revelations of his interactions with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. consumed his last year in office.
McDonnell insisted that he had broken no laws and promised that with his apology complete, he would now get back to the business of governing.
Privately, the first lady feared otherwise.
Over hours of late-night wine, Maureen McDonnell poured out her heart to her manicurist. She had misjudged Jonnie Williams, she said, a man she had once thought a friend who had now betrayed her and her husband, according to people familiar with the manicurist’s visit.
Six months before the McDonnells were charged, the first lady made a stark prediction: Her husband would go to jail, she said, and it would all be her fault.
Last week, a federal jury assigned blame differently, convicting both Robert and Maureen McDonnell of conspiring to sell his office in exchange for $177,000 in luxury vacations, other gifts and sweetheart loans from Williams. He was convicted of 11 counts, she of nine. Both face years in prison.
There had been a way to avoid that.
In December, prosecutors offered to let the former governor plead guilty to just one count of lying to a bank. Maureen McDonnell would avoid charges entirely.
He flatly declined, refusing to plead guilty to a crime he has said he did not commit.