Former Edwards speech writer could be key to prosecutors

ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 19, 2012 

As John Edwards’ trial gets closer to opening statements on Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys are revealing evidence and witness lists that offer glimpses of the arguments to come.

The witness lists includes names made familiar by the scandal: Rielle Hunter, the campaign videographer with whom Edwards had an extramarital affair and a child, and Andrew Young, the former aide who wrote a tell-all book about Edwards’ ill-fated run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

But the testimony of one witness listed for both the prosecution and defense, former Edwards speechwriter Wendy Button, could speak volumes for how the trial turns.

“Indeed, she is probably one of the government’s more important witnesses because the indictment alleges that Mr. Edwards made statements about his knowledge of events to her,” Allison Van Laningham, a Greensboro lawyer on the Edwards defense team, stated in a recent court document related to the case.

Button is trying to quash a subpoena issued by Edwards’ attorneys requesting sweeping information related to her communications with or about Edwards and Young. It also requests drafts or agreements relating to any book she plans to write about the case.

Prosecutors contend Button will corroborate their allegations that Edwards knew Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer, was providing money to “support and hide” Hunter from the media.

A hearing on the motion to quash was set for Friday, but was canceled Thursday by Judge Catherine Eagles, The Associated Press reported. She ordered the lawyers involved in the issue to file written briefs with the court.

Eagles, who will preside over the trial, had recused herself previously and asked another judge to decide the matter since her husband works in the firm of the North Carolina lawyer representing Button.

Link to the money?

Though Button is not mentioned by name in the indictment, prosecutors describe a campaign staffer who helped Edwards in July or August of 2009 draft a statement for the media in which he would acknowledge being the father of Frances Quinn, the daughter Hunter gave birth to on Feb. 27, 2008.

“In the course of preparing this statement,” the six-count indictment alleges, “Edwards told the employee that, during his presidential campaign, he was aware that Person D [since identified as Fred Baron] had provided money and made expenditures to support and hide [Hunter] from the media.”

Edwards ended his campaign for president in January 2008. Baron, Edwards’ national finance campaign chairman, died in October 2008.

Button, who has written for Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, describes herself on her Twitter account as a “writer and reformed politico” in Massachusetts. She wrote for Edwards through his days as a U.S. senator to his two runs for president.

Button created an uproar in 2008 when she wrote an essay on The Daily Beast website titled “So long, Democrats” and announced she would be voting for GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

She later wrote of the reaction, “I expected anger from the far-left, but the extreme caught me off-guard.”

Since the National Enquirer broke the news about Edwards’ affair and child with Hunter, Button has written several blog posts for the Huffington Post about her frustrations with her former boss.

On Feb. 10, 2010, the online Huffington Post published “My Story of John Edwards’ Mess,” Button’s lengthy personal essay about finding out that her former boss was going to acknowledge being the father of Frances Quinn.

Button wrote about being a “star-struck” idealistic staffer in the early days of Edwards’ political career, hopeful that his focus on the millions and millions of people who live in poverty every day was sincere.

Becoming disillusioned

Over the years, though, Button became less enamored with politics, according to her essays, and chagrined by the scandals and lies.

In her essay, Button stated that she did not know Hunter and Edwards were having an affair until July 2009.

Young, author of “The Politician,” is expected to be a key witness for prosecutors. Prosecutors contend Edwards secretly obtained more than $900,000 from Baron, the wealthy Texas attorney, and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a centenarian and philanthropic Listerine heiress, to hide Hunter and her pregnancy from the public.

Prosecutors contend the payments were unreported campaign contributions that exceeded legal limits.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to the accusations.

His attorneys argue that he did not break the law.

Young, who at first claimed to be the father of Hunter’s baby, could have a credibility issue that jurors find difficult to get past.

Button, a writer who lists in her online bio that she received a master’s of fine arts from Bennington College, could be a witness prosecutors plan to use to corroborate what Young might say.

In the subpoena that Button is trying to quash, the Edwards’ defense team contends that Button might have a book deal similar to Young’s.

On the day Edwards was indicted, a post on her Twitter account linked to a YouTube clip of the Grateful Dead playing “Going Down the Road” at Alpine Valley in 1989. “It’s a day for The Grateful Dead’s GDTRFB,” the post states.

The song’s lyrics include lines that may foreshadow the feelings the disenchanted former staffer may bring to the witness stand:

“Going down the road feeling bad, hey hey hey, yeah. Don’t wanna be treated this a way.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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