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Former Governor's Corruption Trial New for Virginia, but Not for US Politics

  • Amy Lu

A public corruption trial in the U.S. state of Virginia has made headlines across the nation, with stories of expensive gifts, a faltering marriage and infatuation.

The former governor, Bob McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen, are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting his company's products.

Once entrusted by voters with fighting for the people of Virginia, McDonnell is now fighting in a court of law.

"I can't comment on any of the testimony in the trial, as you know," he said.

It’s the first time a Virginia governor has faced trial on public corruption charges.

The McDonnells are charged with accepting numerous lavish gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams, including $15,000 for their daughter’s wedding.

Defense lawyers said Maureen McDonnell developed a "crush" on Williams and reject the prosecution's claim the McDonnells used the governor's office to promote the businessman's dietary supplement company.

Trials of U.S. politicians are not new.

"Certainly the behaviors before this court today will never be repeated," said former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who is serving jail time after being convicted of sexual harassment last year.

Florida Congressman Trey Radel resigned from office after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

“I have let down our country, I have let down our constituents. I’ve let down my family,” Radel said.

Political corruption trials, like the McDonnells', often stem from investigative reports published in the U.S. media, according to Newport University's Quentin Kidd.

"We have a media that will go after these stories and expose them, and then prosecutors will come in behind them and say 'Oh yeah, we see there’s a potential crime here,' and they’ll investigate it and charge public officials sometimes, other times they don't,” Kidd said.

A free and open news media often keep corruption in check.

“I think as long as human nature is what it is, there will probably always be corruption, which is why we need a free media and which is why we need a judiciary that’s independent of the political process,” Kidd said.

"We're looking forward to conitnue to having the truth come out," McDonnell said.

If convicted, he and his wife face decades in prison.

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