VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As former Gov. Bob McDonnell appeals his public corruption conviction, his sister sat down for an exclusive interview with 10 On Your Side. She opened up about what it’s been like to be part of the McDonnell family over the last year.
Maureen McDonnell, who happens to have the same name as Bob McDonnell’s wife, calls her older brother her best friend.
10 On Your Side met Maureen at her Virginia Beach home, where Bob McDonnell lives when he is in Virginia Beach. He also stays at the homes of his two daughters, and stays with his priest when he is in Richmond.
The interview began with what Maureen remembers about September 4, 2014. The McDonnells were praying as a family when word came that the jury was back.
“We actually were all on our knees at the time when the verdict came in,” she said. “We were at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, praying for each juror and praying for wisdom for those jurors.”
So, sister Maureen and brother Bob, along with the rest of the family, hurried back to the federal courthouse to hear what they thought would be a “not guilty” verdict.
“We all believed, our family believed, there was no way 12 people could find him guilty of these crimes. It was devastating,” Maureen said.
The verdicts were read: guilty, guilty, guilty, 11 times guilty.
“It was devastating, and we were all weeping. We were all in shock and disbelief for the first hours after the verdict came down,” Maureen said.
Time has eased the pain. McDonnell was given a two-year sentence when it could have been 12 and a half years. He was also allowed to stay out of prison while his conviction is appealed. In the meantime the two McDonnell siblings are roommates.
“It’s been a terrific time to be with him, to reconnect, to support him, we pray together, we exercise together,” Maureen said. They shop together, and Maureen talked about the support Bob gets in the community. “Strangers come up to him on the street, when he is at church, going to the grocery store, and they say ‘we believe in you, and we stand by you.'”
The two are deeply spiritual and pray often, and Maureen said some prayers have been answered: “We pray for peace, we pray for Bob. We pray that he lets this go, that we all let this go. Much of this is out of our hands. We know that God will see us through this.”
Maureen said they even pray for Jonnie Williams, who is the smooth talking businessman who became friends with the McDonnells. They even pray for Williams, who a jury decided gave gifts and loans to McDonnell to influence the former governor. WAVY.com asked her what she prays for about Jonnie Williams.
“Certainly, nothing bad,” she replied. “We pray he would examine his own soul. We pray he would examine how he testified. We pray that he would be more truthful.”
The legal nightmare has changed them as a family.
“We still laugh, as we always have … there is probably more of a solemn nature … at some point, at get-togethers we think how our parents may feel about this and how devastated and sad they would be.”
The cloud over Bob McDonnell may be lifting, letting in some rays of sunshine. A court brief filed from former state attorney generals found that convicting Bob McDonnell on the broadly defined official acts in the jury instructions would “wreak havoc on the public life of Virginia.”
Maureen added, “It would criminalize politics as usual … the common political behavior in every state house across this entire country.”
A three judge panel with the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals finds merit with this, has allowed McDonnell be released on bond pending his appeal, and expedited his oral arguments to May 12. Maureen remembered how thankful she was when she learned that: “It was a time we could breath a sigh of relief, and feel blessed and thankful for their ruling,” she said.
It’s hard believing this, but Maureen said Bob’s ordeal has been a blessing.
“It is an interesting blessing that has come out of this,” she said. “Bob has the time and the energy to simply focus on others … parents who have lost a son or daughter … people who suffer and are hurt, and he has a great understanding for those he didn’t have before.”
In the event Bob McDonnell is finally exonerated, 10 On Your Side asked Maureen where Bob would go to get back his reputation.
She answered, “Bob is going to be Bob, which is being active in his church and reaching out, giving back everyday he’s alive.”