Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court Friday to charges they traded gifts and loans in exchange for using the power of the office to promote a wealthy businessman’s dietary supplement. They entered their pleas in front of at least 40 reporters, 20 friends and family members, three court-room sketch artists and one priest, who sat with the family.
The proceedings were quick – 15 minutes at most – and at the end Judge James Spencer set a jury trial for July 28. What stood out in the courtroom?
The McDonnells made a point of at least looking like neither totally hates the other. They walked in and out of the court house holding hands, and as they sat next to each other before the bond hearing, they whispered to each other – no icy glares. Who knows, maybe she’s not furious he rejected that plea deal that would have spared her of all charges?
Republican leaders are (literally) standing behind the former governor. We’ve heard the rhetoric to that effect already, but high-level Republicans took it a step further by attending the trial, including House Speaker William J. Howell and House Majority M. Leader Kirkland Cox.
Bob McDonnell smiles confidently all of the time. Some might call it a smirk, but however you interpret the expression, he wears it, even when he’s walking into and out of a courtroom where he is charged with corruption.
Even if you’re the governor, you have to recite your name, age, educational background and health status before entering pleas in federal court. McDonnell appeared caught off guard when asked what, if any, medication he was taking: Just Crestor – a cholesterol drug – the night before, he told the judge. Asked the same question, Maureen McDonnell said she had taken prescriptions for “concentration and anxiety” that day. She wasn’t asked to elaborate.
No one’s expecting a quick trial. The McDonnells waived their right to a speedy trial. Had they not, the case would have begun in April, the lawyers said. Federal prosecutors told the judge they expected they would need 15 days to make their case. The McDonnells’ defense team said they’d need seven to 10. The judge set aside a total of five to six weeks for the proceedings.