By Petula Dvorak
The Washington Post
Two years of prison time. That was the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge James Spencer to former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell for selling an office once occupied by Thomas Jefferson.
It was far less than prosecutors were seeking, but far more than McDonnell's defense attorneys wanted.
Was it a just outcome? Honestly, the only way to truly teach McDonnell, 60, a lesson would be sentencing him to move back to Virginia Beach and raise five kids on his own.
That's what his wife Maureen had to do — and it's earned her nothing but blame from her husband, his political allies and even one of her own daughters. She's the one, they said, who sought $177,000 in lavish gifts and sweetheart loans from Richmond, Va., entrepreneur Jonnie Williams.
The judge, to his credit, called those who blame Maureen McDonnell "dangerously delusional." "While Mrs. McDonnell may have allowed the serpent into the mansion, the governor knowingly let him into his personal and business affairs," Spencer said.
Amen, judge. But instead of having McDonnell report to prison by Feb. 9, maybe an even better punishment would have been to have him step into his wife's shoes for about 30 years.
Mandate that he start from scratch and spend every day with skinned knees, sticky fingers, soccer practice, runny noses, swim meets, clogged toilets, homework and spaghetti dinners.
He would also get a wife as part of his sentence — a beautiful, powerful, successful and adored public figure who never listens to him when he tells her that he's tired, cranky, needs some help or wishes she'd stop all this travel and public appearances.
After the household money runs low, and people start calling her "Your Excellency," McDonnell would have to find a way to make ends meet. His careerist wife would then move to Richmond, and leave him behind, so the kids could finish school.
In between loads of laundry and breaking up fights, McDonnell would be required to pull himself together for public appearances with the Adored Wife. He wouldn't get to speak much, he'd be blown off by most people, and anyone who did talk about him would mention the hole in his shirt, the little paunch around his waist and the weird way he dyed his hair.
When he would tell his wife that he didn't have the stomach for all this, she would start staying at work really, really late. Until he was asleep. So she didn't have to talk to him.
That should do it.
But maybe two years in prison was the right call. McDonnell was presidential material, after all, testified former Virginia governor Doug Wilder. And now that's gone.
The White House? What was he thinking?
Maureen McDonnell, who will be sentenced Feb. 20 for eight counts of public corruption, had a hard time with her husband being a state delegate, let alone commander-in-chief. He was even more delusional than the judge suggested if he thought she could deal with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And it was narcissism in full blossom when he forged ahead in a high-stakes political career that his wife was neither interested in nor capable of living.
At the sentencing on Tuesday, witnesses testified to what an absolutely flawless man McDonnell was. And yet, none of them had an issue with the way he conducted the most important relationship in his life — the one with his wife.
He was willing to trash her to prove his innocence, trying to argue that he and his wife didn't conspire to corrupt anything because they were barely talking.
Some of his friends emailed me to underscore how awful she was (She tried to sell her vitamin supplements to everyone at the office! Gasp!) and how poor Bob was stuck because he's a devout Catholic and his faith wouldn't let him divorce her.
One man even said they had an alert system for when she was on her way to the office so that they could all disappear and avoid her. Huh. No wonder she hated his work life.
Instead of defending his wife, McDonnell allegedly apologized to aides for her behavior.
McDonnell finally showed some self-awareness at his sentencing Tuesday. "I stand before you a heartbroken and humbled man," McDonnell said, months after he'd laid bare the painful details of marriage for everyone to hear.
He admitted in court that he allowed his life as governor to become "out of balance," without enough focus on his family. He said he held himself "accountable for all the words, all the actions I took as governor of Virginia. I ask that whatever mercy you might have, you grant it first to my wife Maureen," he told the judge.
Too bad he didn't do that himself, many years ago. He may never have made it to the governor's mansion. But he probably wouldn't be heading to prison, either.