Image: AP

As a gift scandal slowly ensnared Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell last year, it was hard not to dwell on a basic question about the commonwealth’s top political couple:

What were they thinking?

Now, a 43-page federal indictment offers an extraordinary version of an answer. Text messages, emails and accounts of in-person conversations dating to 2009 depict a family that publicly appeared savvy about how it asserted the power of the governor’s mansion but privately was wracked by money fears and preoccupied with status symbols.

Maureen McDonnell’s anxieties are laid bare early. According to prosecutors, it was a month before her husband’s 2010 inauguration — a typically showy affair — when she emailed a senior aide to her husband about what she was going to wear.

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