McDonnell himself is said to be frustrated and distraught, in a state of disbelief but not denial about the gravity of his predicament. His friends say that McDonnell firmly believes that he has done nothing illegal, and he told the Richmond station WTVR that in his 37 years of adult life, “No one’s raised questions about my integrity or my character.”

The question everyone’s raising now is: How on earth did McDonnell let this happen? How did a famously disciplined politician set himself up for this operatic dive from the peak of American political life?

The most popular theory at the moment is that the governor, having overextended himself in the housing market prior to the 2008 crash, averted his gaze when Williams started propping up his family. McDonnell wouldn’t be the first politician to try and sustain a lifestyle beyond his means, and then sink into deeper trouble by getting bailed out.

In that view, the Virginia tale is a case study in the personal disorientation that stems from ascending to great political heights – the inevitable blurring of lines between one’s donors and friends, and the loss of perspective that comes with winning an office of immense power and limited financial reward.

But the truth is that nobody outside McDonnell’s family, and perhaps no one aside from the governor himself, knows precisely what blind spot or lapse in judgment set him on the path to self-immolation.