McDonnell trial: Key issues to be weighed by jurors in court spectacle

Bob and Maureen McDonnell. (AP file photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) – Remember, this all could have been avoided.

Had former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell simply accepted a plea deal late last year in which he would plead guilty to a single felony count of fraud, all the other charges (in all, it's a 14-count indictment) against him and his wife, Maureen, would have been dropped.

In other words, he could have spared his wife from embarrassing scrutiny that, simply put, was a month-long exercise in character assassination.

Nope. His defense team had other plans.
,br>Instead, it opted for a daily spectacle both tawdry and tedious.

Closing arguments in the federal corruption trial were happening Friday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, where a jury of eight men and four women (seven are white, five are African American) will then have to decide whether Bob McDonnell is a crook, whether Maureen McDonnell is a crook, or whether both are crooks.

When he left court Thursday, the former governor appeared calm, cool and confident – as he has every day of the trial.

"I've had an incredibly blessed life in the things I've gotten to do," he told reporters, "and I've got confidence, as I said five weeks ago, in the judicial system and amazing faith in my God and my family, and the ability of a jury to find the truth."

Maureen McDonnell, per usual, ignored questions.

In terms of contextual clarity, the aims of both sides are fairly simple.

• The government says the McDonnells conspired to accept more than $177,000 in gifts, loans and favors from Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams in exchange for helping him promote a dietary supplement.

• Bob McDonnell's defense team says Maureen McDonnell is something of a shrew.

Conspiracy? How could there have been a conspiracy, the defense asks, when the governor and his wife were barely on speaking terms in what was portrayed as a decidedly crumbling marriage?

All the ugly and by now well-documented details of Maureen McDonnell's alleged erratic behavior inside the Executive Mansion were put out there for all to see. Oh, and by the way, she had a crush on the aforementioned Williams.

Poppycock, say the prosecutors, who by most accounts from seasoned judicial observers did an effective job in attempting to discredit that narrative.

After the closing arguments, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer will decide whether to let the jury begin deliberations immediately – following all-important jury instructions -- or wait until after the Labor Day weekend.

Either way, the trial has been one long, strange trip.

And remember, this all could have been avoided.