RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The woman who ran the governor's mansion under Bob McDonnell testified Thursday that the governor doted on his wife and kissed her on the cheek frequently, but acknowledged telling investigators that the former first couple seemed to lack healthy communication skills.
Sarah Scarbrough, a close friend of the McDonnells' daughter, who served as mansion director for much of the governor's four-year term, said at the trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell that from her perspective inside the mansion the pair "seemed like a very happy, in-love couple" and that she had told others that McDonnell "worshipped the ground Maureen walked on."
Her testimony undercuts an argument by the defense that the marriage had deteriorated to the point that the couple rarely communicated, much less engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and secret loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplement products. Williams testified under immunity that he spent lavishly on the McDonnells only because he wanted their help.
Under cross-examination from the former governor's attorney, though, Scarbrough acknowledged telling investigators that the marriage seemed to lack healthy communications and describing Maureen McDonnell as "sneaky" and frequently yelling at staff.
Scarbrough also admitted telling investigators that the former governor appeared to be in denial about Maureen McDonnell's "mental capacity," although there was no further description of what exactly that meant.
Scarbrough's testimony comes a day after another former Maureen McDonnell staffer, Mary-Shea Sutherland, acknowledged describing Mrs. McDonnell as a "nutbag" who excitedly accepted the gifts that Williams lavished on her.
Scarbrough also testified about an August 2011 reception held at the governor's mansion to launch Star Scientific's new product, Anatabloc. Scarbrough said Maureen McDonnell was the impetus behind the reception and that it was unusual to use the mansion, operated under state funds, to launch a product for a private company.
Under cross-examination, though, Scarbrough acknowledged that several receptions were held at the mansion over the years that specifically catered to private firms, including a dinner reception with Volkswagen, which has its U.S. headquarters in Virginia, the New York Stock Exchange and Forbes magazine.
Scarbrough also testified that Maureen McDonnell insisted on adding multiple guests connected to Williams' company to a reception of health care leaders at another reception at the governor's mansion in February 2012, and that Williams was given the opportunity to speak at the reception. About 125 people attended the reception. Scarbrough said that Virginia's health secretary, Bill Hazel, refused to use his department's budget to pay for about 25 of the guests because he wasn't the person who wanted them there.
Scarbrough testified that when law enforcement eventually interviewed Maureen McDonnell in February 2013 pertaining to the corruption investigation, she emerged from the long interview at the mansion angry and saying "that they were interrogating her and it wasn't fair and they were trying to set her up."