RICHMOND -- Former Gov. Bob McDonnell took the stand in his public corruption trial Wednesday as his lawyers put on day three of their defense, aimed at proving that he did not give special treatment to a businessman who says he showered the state's onetime first couple with gifts and loans.
Bob McDonnell said he got an inkling the day after his 2009 victory that his wife had reservations about being first lady.
"I could tell she was not as happy as I was about the result," he testified as his lawyers put on the fourth day of his defense.
At one point she was upset and yelling at him, he said, but he reassured her that she would do a good job.
"She seemed to be upset, concerned about her role," he said.
Before his testimony began, much of the focus of the trial had been on his wife, Maureen. Earlier testimony Wednesday centered on two sides of Maureen McDonnell: a public persona promoting Virginia businesses and a woman overstressed from her Executive Mansion role.
An organizational consultant from Virginia Commonwealth University testified on Wednesday that Maureen McDonnell may have been depressed during her time living in the governor’s mansion.
Dr. John Burke, who runs the Performance Management Group at VCU, was hired by the governor’s staff in late 2011 to help make changes to the first lady’s staff amid some turnover and high tensions.
“Early on, we had hard times. There were a lot of ups and downs and a lot of chaos in the office,” Burke told jurors.
He said the first lady’s staff told him that much of the tension came from the way they were treated by Maureen, who other witnesses have testified was prone to yelling and screaming at people when she didn’t get her way.
Burke said his original plan was to build a team that could sustain itself, and let that team function on its own, but that plan didn’t materialize because of ongoing problems the staff ran into with Maureen McDonnell.
Defense attorneys showed an email from a staffer hired to take the place of Mary Shea Sutherland, the first lady’s chief of staff who left amid tensions with her boss, which showed the governor was blaming his wife’s anxiety and problems on her staff.
Burke testified that Maureen McDonnell was “very nervous, very anxious,” about living in the mansion. That’s why, he told jurors, he suggested to the governor that she move out of the mansion and into the couple’s private home.
During cross examination, Burke elaborated on how much Maureen McDonnell hated being first lady. He said she especially didn’t like giving public speeches.
“She was clearly stressed,” he said. “She was not happy. She told us and other people that this is something she did not sign up for.”
In addition to suggesting she move out, Burke said he also suggested that Maureen McDonnell seek counseling in a private meeting with Bob McDonnell. Burke said the governor didn’t dismiss the idea but said he wanted to try and fix the problems himself first.
At the end of his testimony, John Brownlee, one of McDonnells’ lead defense attorneys, asked Burke if Maureen McDonnell was depressed. He responded by saying that she could have been depressed.
The subject of Maureen McDonnell and the former first couple's troubled marriage will resurface again Thursday morning when McDonnell re-takes the stand to continue testifying. When he was leaving court Wednesday night, the former governor speculated that he could be on the stand for at least two days.
Reporter Nick Ochsner will be in the courtroom for McDonnell's testimony. Following him on Twitter @13NickOchsner for the latest updates.