Four Times US Leaders Blamed Their Wives When In Trouble

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Facing controversy, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have employed a classic political tactic to navigate their predicaments: blaming their wives.

Alito and Menendez seem to be following the footsteps of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and former California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who also implicated their spouses during legal troubles. While this might offer some legal leverage, as spouses cannot be compelled to testify against one another, it can also be perceived as betrayal by their partners.

“Given how the public generally holds women to a higher ethical standard than men and expect them to take raps for behavior men routinely get away with, I could see how men might think blaming their wife for a misdeed could shield them from criticism,” Jennifer Palmieri, a political strategist, told the New York Times. “But not when it involves your wife.”

Alito says wife flew ‘Stop the Steal’ flag

In a report published last week, Alito faced backlash after neighbors alleged the Alito house displayed an upside-down American flag, seen as a symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement linked to the Jan. 6 insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Alito denied involvement, attributing the act to his wife, Martha-Ann.

Justice Samuel Alito and his wife Martha-Ann stand during a private ceremony for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

“I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag,” Alito said. “It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

Witnesses from his Alexandria, Virginia, neighborhood reported the flag remained upside down for several days.

“It might be his spouse or someone else living in his home, but he shouldn’t have it in his yard as his message to the world,” Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, told the New York Times. She likened the act to displaying a ‘Stop the Steal’ sign, problematic for someone adjudicating election-related cases.

The Supreme Court will soon issue rulings on cases related to the Capitol riot, including whether Trump, the presumed 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has immunity from charges of attempting to overturn the election.

Menendez places alleged bribery scheme on his wife

Menendez’s attorneys have attributed the alleged foreign bribery scheme involving substantial gifts, including a Mercedes Benz, to his wife, Nadine. During the trial, which began earlier this month, the prosecution asserted Nadine Menendez played a critical role in orchestrating the alleged bribes, a claim also echoed by the senator’s legal team.

Nadine Menendez and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) arrive at Manhattan federal court, Monday, March 11, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

“She kept things from him,” Avi Weitzman, Bob Menendez’s attorney, said in court on Tuesday. “She kept him in the dark on what she was asking others to give her. She was outgoing; she was fun-loving. But she wasn’t going to let Bob know that she had financial problems.”

According to the prosecution, Nadine Menendez and her associate Wael Hana connected the Menendezes with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, initiating the alleged bribery scheme involving Egypt and Qatar.

Nadine Menendez purportedly shared sensitive, nonpublic information with Egyptian officials and facilitated U.S.-Egypt relations through her husband’s governmental position, as per the indictments.

Nadine Menendez’s trial is set for later this summer. Both Bob and Nadine Menendez have pleaded not guilty.

Former Virginia governor blames his estranged marriage for corruption charges

McDonnell, the former Republican Virginia governor, along with his wife Maureen, faced federal corruption charges in 2014 for allegedly accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, including a Rolex watch and vacations.

The defense argued that his marriage was too estranged for Bob McDonnell to be part of the conspiracy. Maureen McDonnell was portrayed as a “crazy wife” during the proceedings.

FILE – In this Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, former Gov. Bob McDonnell answers a reporter’s questions during an interview on the grounds of the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

“I knew there was no way I could go home after a day in court and have to rehash the day’s events with my wife,” Bob McDonnell testified, mentioning he moved out of the family home before the trial began.

He suggested that his wife needed counseling and stated that staff at the Virginia governor’s mansion threatened to quit if Maureen McDonnell’s behavior did not improve.

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, right, arrives at Federal Court with her daughter, Rachel McDonnell, left, in Richmond, Virginia, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“She would yell at me,” Bob McDonnell told the court. “She would tell me I was taking staff’s side, that I didn’t know what it was really going on over there.”

He confirmed his wife had a “strong emotional attachment” to the man accused of giving them the corrupt gifts but did not explicitly confirm if there was a physical affair.

Former California representative says his wife controlled their finances

Then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, center, leaves an arraignment hearing Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

When Duncan Hunter, a former Republican representative from California, and his wife, Margaret, faced charges in 2018 for misusing campaign funds for personal expenses, Hunter claimed ignorance, asserting his wife managed the family’s finances.

Initially, Hunter labeled the charges a “witch hunt” and part of the “Democrats’ arm of law enforcement.” A day later, he shifted his defense strategy, blaming his wife for handling the campaign finances and asserting he was uninvolved.

FILE – In this Aug. 23, 2018, file photo, Margaret Hunter, the wife of then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, arrives for an arraignment hearing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

“She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure,” Duncan Hunter said of his wife. “But I didn’t do it. I didn’t spend any money illegally.”

Hunter asserted Margaret Hunter managed both their personal and campaign finances without his involvement. They eventually pleaded guilty to some of the charges, leading to Duncan Hunter’s 11-month prison sentence.

However, both Duncan and Margaret Hunter were pardoned by former President Donald Trump in 2020, avoiding any prison time.

Annabella Rosciglione
Annabella Rosciglione
Breaking News Reporter. Annabella is a graduate of UW-Madison where she worked at the Daily Cardinal reporting on Wisconsin politics.

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