Edwards case: The cast of characters

May 29, 2011 

The key figures

Rielle Hunter, born Lisa Jo Druck, was a New York party girl and aspiring actress in the 1980s before giving up drugs and embracing New Age philosophy in California. She began her affair with John Edwards in 2006 and traveled with him during 2006 and 2007, shooting video of his campaign. Hunter became pregnant with Edwards' child in 2007; in 2008 their daughter, Quinn, was born. In a related matter, she is suing Andrew Young to regain possession of a sex tape she made with Edwards.

Andrew Young was a close and loyal aide to Edwards beginning with Edwards’ run for the U.S. Senate in 1998. During Edwards’ second presidential campaign, Young helped conceal Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter, even to the point of claiming that he was the father of the child that Hunter had with Edwards. Young later fell out with the Edwardses and wrote a tell-all book, “The Politician,” in 2010. He and his wife, Cheri, have been involved in legal skirmishes with Hunter over the possession of the Hunter-Edwards sex tape.

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, now 100 years old, is the widow of billionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon and is heiress to the Warner-Lambert fortune built on Listerine and Gillette razors. Mellon became a huge fan of Edwards and gave $3.5 million to his non-profit, Alliance for a New America, and $700,000 to keep Hunter and Young hidden during Edwards' second presidential campaign. Mellon was a close friend of Jackie Kennedy and helped design the White House Rose Garden. When her husband was alive, the couple entertained British royalty, including Queen Elizabeth, at their farm in Virginia.

Bryan Huffman, a decorator from Monroe, was befriended by Bunny Mellon in 2003 after he sent her a note praising her contributions to a church in Virginia. Huffman was also an acquaintance of Andrew Young and arranged John Edwards' first meeting with Mellon in 2006. Young wrote that Mellon sent checks to Edwards for his “personal” use through Huffman's interior design business in Monroe. Huffman endorsed the checks over to Young, who got the money to Edwards.

Dallas trial lawyer Fred Baron made tens of millions of dollars representing clients exposed to harmful toxins, particularly asbestos. Active in the Democratic Party, Baron was the finance chairman of John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign before co-chairing the Kerry Victory Committee. Baron admitted in 2008 that he had given money to Rielle Hunter, and allowed Hunter and Andrew Young's family to use Baron's private jets and homes. Baron died of cancer in October 2008.

The defense

Bronx native Abbe Lowell has represented some big Washington names, including Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican who, unlike Edwards, has not been charged but is fighting claims that gifts made in connection with an affair might have been campaign donations. Other clients include lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Rep. Gary Condit, the California Democrat who balked at cooperating with a police probe of the disappearance and death of aide Chandra Levy; and House Democrats who defended Bill Clinton at his impeachment proceedings.

The prosecution

The Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice is leading the prosecution of John Edwards. This may be the section’s highest-profile political prosecution since the botched prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. In that case, Public Integrity lawyers repeatedly withheld evidence from defense lawyers and the federal trial judge, who said, “In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case."

There has been a shakeup at the section since then. Its new chief, Jack Smith, is a career federal attorney who prosecuted the New York police officers who sodomized a Haitian immigrant with a broom handle in a Brooklyn police station. Smith has prosecuted Mafia cases and gang murders and worked at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.

The lead prosecutor is David Harbach.

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