Barbara Mandel was composed. She sat in a small chair in the powder-blue living room of her Baltimore apartment, adjusting her gold earings and smoothing the skirt of her aqua dress. She was about to be interviewed for television. Four hours earlier her ex-husband, the governor of Maryland had been found guilty of political corruption.

"I'm very distressed I never thought there would be a guilty verdict. Never," she said. "I didn't think they had enough evidence. I thought the case was very weak."

"I know Marvin Mandel . . . I've never known him to be dishonest," she said of the man who left her after 32 years of marriage for what he then described as "the woman I love."

The circumstances of their 1974 divorce, the $300,000 worth of money, bonds and insurance for Mrs. Mandel played a key role in the prosecution of the governor.

"I don't think [the divorce] had anything to do with it." Mrs. Mandel said of the troubles.

The bonds, she said , were offered by Man-Mandel found himself involved in.

del's codefendant and close friend Irvin Kovens because "he wanted to make sure I was taken care of."

And as to the diamond bracelet, the bracelet the prosecution said was part of a payoff to the governor, "it was given to her because she won a bet," Mrs. Mandel said.

It was a bet, she said, "because Barbara Mandel can't be bought."

She wasn't saying these things, she wasn't insisting on her former husband's innocence because she still loved him, Mrs. Mandel said. She was saying them because she has known Mandel since he was 15-years-old and "I only know Marvin Mandel to be an honest man."

"I could speak about the boy, I could speak about the man. I could speak about the politician - or statesman as I called him," she said.

"We went up the ladder together" through the long years of Maryland politics, she said.

"A lot of these things happen in government and I think in many ways they are misconstrued," said the former First Lady, herself known as a shrewd observer of Maryland politics.

During the long trial, Mrs. Mandel said, people from her banker to a shoemaker told her they supported the governor. And she told him herself, "You going to be all right" and sent messages to him during the trial "wishing him well."

"I think he's a definite victim of our times," she said, calling him a target of the prosecutorial mentality spawned by the revelations of Watergate.

"I think Barney Skclnik was out for another scalp," she said of the chief government prosecutor.

She said that U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Taylor may have influenced the jury. She said she was confident that the jury had been hopelessly deadlocked before Judge Taylor urged them to reach a verdict.

"What or who made them change their mind" a week after the jury foreman told Judge Taylor the panel could not reach a unanimous verdict? She asked.

"What did they find new (after Taylor spoke to them) that they didn't find before?"

Ellen Mandel, the couple's 29-year-old daughter who was with Mrs. Mandel yesterday, said she talked to her father after the jury verdict and described him as "shocked."

The governor was "surprised" and "amazed" at the verdict, Mrs. Mandel said. But she maintained that the conviction will not spell the end for Marvin Mandel.

He will not go to jail, his former wife said, because he will appeal the case to a higher court and "be found not guilty."

"I say it because I believe it," Mrs. Mandel said, "I think he's a fighter and a schapper and it's not over for him."