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Outside McDonnells' Courtroom, a Study in Contrasts



One city block stands between Capitol Square and the federal courthouse where the corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell began Monday morning.

As the former governor and first lady were entering the courthouse - mobbed by photographers and reporters - all was quiet in the place where they once reigned.

Outside the executive mansion, a groundskeeper mowed the lawn. A woman walked by with her dog. A handful of tourists wandered between statues, admiring the templelike beauty of the nearby Capitol building.

The square is normally quite sleepy this time of year, with the General Assembly out of session.

But on Monday, as bees worked a bed of red flowers in front of the McDonnells' one-time home, Virginia's "trial of the century" - as it's being dubbed - seemed a universe away, a testament of how far the former first couple has fallen.

Back at the courthouse, husband and wife were a study in contrasts. Instead of arriving by car, as the media crowd expected, they appeared on foot - walking up the sidewalk with their entourages, about five minutes apart.

Maureen McDonnell arrived first, triggering a stampede when photographers spotted her in the distance. Shielded by a half-dozen or so men in suits who closed ranks around her, she kept her eyes down, holding tight to the hands of two of her daughters, one on each side.

Dressed in a black skirt and jacket, looking small, nervous and unsteady on high heels, she was whisked inside the courthouse without saying a word.

Her husband, on the other hand, strode up, parting his entourage with a full-wattage smile when media trotted his way. Dressed in a dark suit and light blue tie, he looked pale and thin but cool and confident, sounding almost chipper as he greeted the crowd with "Good morning" and "How's everybody doing?"

Steadily walking toward the courthouse entrance, with journalists scrambling after him, McDonnell remained the consummate politician.

He told reporters he was feeling good and was looking forward to rebutting the charges in court. He was solicitous, cautioning a photographer to watch out for a tangle of cables that might cause him to trip. Stripping off his jacket for the metal scanner, he thanked courthouse security staff for their service.

"I slept well last night," he said before stepping into the elevator. "I have tremendous faith in God, and I have a great team of lawyers."

Husband and wife intersected on the seventh floor, outside the courtroom, waiting in the hallway for the proper moment to go in. No visible interaction passed between them. Both seemed to move in their own orbits, receiving last-minute hugs and good-luck wishes from a knot of family and friends.

"I'm just glad I have my girls with me," Maureen McDonnell said softly before she and her husband were ushered in to start a trial that will air their family finances, put a microscope on their marriage and, quite possibly, send one or both to prison.

Outside the courthouse, office workers stopped to take cellphone photos of the media crush. Over at Capitol Square, two tourists from Ohio peered over a fence onto the grounds of the executive mansion.

They had no idea its former occupants were on trial just a block away.


Joanne Kimberlin writes about politics for the Virginian Pilot.

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