Witness: Maureen McDonnell was "very difficult, very demanding, very diva-ish"


by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now


Posted on August 18, 2014 at 2:46 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 18 at 5:15 PM

Live coverage of the McDonnell trial

RICHMOND -- Attorneys for former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell began presenting evidence in the federal corruption trial against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on Monday.

The first day of defense testimony largely continued themes that the defense began painting during the nearly three weeks prosecutors presented their case.

Henry Asbill, one of the former governor’s two lead attorneys, spent hours questioning Janet Kelly, who served as Secretary of the Commonwealth for the entirety of McDonnell’s term as governor.

Jurors broke for lunch hearing much of the same story from Kelly that they had heard from other former McDonnell staffers -- the former governor is a hard worker who spent long hours focusing on his job, often at the expense of his family. Kelly also added to the picture that Maureen McDonnell was impossible to work with and could be nasty if she didn’t get her way.

Kelly, who has worked for McDonnell on and off since 1999 when she worked on his re-election campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates, said she only accepted her cabinet position on the condition that she didn’t have to work with Maureen McDonnell.

Kelly said she has known the former first lady for a long time but that the two’s relationship began to fall apart during the campaign for governor.

“She was very difficult, very demanding, very diva-ish,” Kelly said, describing her troubled interactions with Maureen McDonnell.

After Kelly moved into her job in the McDonnell administration, though, she said things improved because she didn’t have to interact with Maureen McDonnell on a regular basis.  She said the situation was different for other staffers.

The problems were so bad and so frequent, Kelly said, that staffers discussed them as weekly scheduling meetings.

“There were some concerns that she was suffering from mental illness,” the former secretary said.

Kelly said she began to serve as an intermediary between the then-first lady and her husband and the rest of the staff about six months into McDonnell’s term because she could tell Maureen was yelling at him at night for problems she would have with staff that day.

“He can’t do his job as governor if he’s getting yelled at at night,” she explained to jurors as her reasoning for re-engaging Maureen McDonnell.

Frustrations came to a head in January 2012 when the entire staff at the governor’s mansion signed a letter threatening to quit if things didn’t improve.

The letter was admitted as evidence and snippets of it were put up for jurors to read in the courtroom.

“We, as a group, are concerned about the general tension that permeates the building at all times,” the staff wrote of the mood inside the governor’s mansion.

Ultimately, the staff did not present the letter to Maureen and did not all quit at once after a management consultant who had been hired from UVA mediated problems between the first lady and her staff.

Kelly testified that the consultant helped re-arrange the staff to make things work better but the efforts to change things around did little to lessen Maureen McDonnell’s nasty moods.

Trip to South Carolina

Kelly also told jurors about a trip she took with Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams on Williams’ private jet to South Carolina.

The trio headed to the Palmetto State for an event where Bob McDonnell endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the Republican primary.

Kelly testified that the two seemed very close during the flight.

“It was kind of flirty. It was very, very, very friendly,” she said of the interaction between Maureen McDonnell and Williams.

During his testimony, Jonnie Williams went out of his way to say that he only viewed the McDonnells as business friends and said he did not have a personal relationship with either of them.

On the flight back from South Carolina, Kelly said it was just her and Williams. During the flight, she said, Williams tried to convince her to buy stock in his company, Star Scientific. She said she was almost convinced until she went home that night and prayed about it and got a bad feeling.

Kelly’s testimony continues Monday afternoon, when attorneys for Maureen McDonnell and then prosecutors will cross examine her.

Reporter Nick Ochsner is in the courtroom. Follow him on Twitter for the latest updates