GREENSBORO — While John Edwards was in the last stages of his 2008 presidential campaign focusing on the poor, his pregnant mistress and political aide were exploring the wealthy upper side of Edwards’ “two Americas.”
The first two days of testimony in the criminal trial of the one-time Democratic hopeful have focused on posh hotels and resorts, big houses in exclusive neighborhoods and the super rich who can dole out thousands of dollars on short notice.
Andrew Young, the former campaign aide, was on the witness stand in a federal courtroom all Tuesday and much of Monday. His testimony has detailed how he spent the largess of rich supporters first to mollify Edwards’ restless mistress, Rielle Hunter, and then to hide her from tabloid reporters once she became pregnant.
Young moved from house to house and hotel room to hotel room on a harried cross-country odyssey with a pregnant Hunter, his wife, Cheri, and for part of the journey, the three Young children.
They stayed in pricey hotel rooms and luxurious estates in Florida, California and the Colorado resort town of Aspen. They lived in the gated Governors Club in Chatham County and eventually moved in to a $1.5 million house the Youngs built on a lot just outside Chapel Hill.
Young testified that Hunter insisted on staying in the best rooms of fancy hotels that had the “right energy.” She shopped at Neiman Marcus and fancy food stores and had people run errands for her while living in exclusive neighborhoods. At one point, Young said, Hunter tried to arrange a deal so she could stay in a glitzy Aspen vacation home complete with a first-floor pool that lit up at night like the constellations.
Edwards, 58, is accused of conspiring to secretly obtain more than $900,000 from two wealthy supporters to hide his extramarital affair with Hunter and her pregnancy from the media. He has pleaded not guilty to six charges related to violations of campaign financing laws.
Young’s testimony has offered two starkly different portrayals of Edwards – a politician who in public spoke of Olympian idealism and in private could be cold enough to turn his back on an aide and mistress, whom Young said he called a “crazy slut.”
Young testified Tuesday that Edwards tried on more than one occasion to distance himself from Hunter, the first after his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, intercepted a phone call and insisted Hunter be fired from her position as campaign videographer.
Prosecutors used phone records, voicemail messages, photocopies of large checks and handwritten notes with testimony from Young as they laid out their case.
Young: ‘We believed’
Defense attorney Allison Van Laningham said Monday in her opening statement that Edwards had “committed many sins, but no crimes.”
Young said that he participated in a scheme in which he solicited vast sums of money from the wealthy to help support Edwards’ mistress because he was worried about his own future.
When asked by prosecutor David Harbach why, even with the support of his wife, he claimed paternity of Frances Quinn, the daughter born to Hunter and Edwards, Young said:
“By this point we were in very deep. We had been taking care of and hiding his mistress and lying to a great deal of people. We believed in the causes. I wanted my friend to be president, I can’t deny that. Being friends with the most powerful person on Earth, there’s a lot of benefits that go along with that – for yourself, for your family.”
Young said he dreamed of working in embassies and working abroad, where his children could live in different countries and learn about other cultures.
But after he publicly claimed paternity of Hunter’s child, Young said he knew the Edwards team had begun to do “opposition research” on him, trying to erode his reputation.
Young, who is testifying for prosecutors under an immunity agreement, was not on any official payroll at the time.
His wife, a part-time nurse, deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars into their private bank accounts – checks written by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, then forwarded to Bryan Huffman, a decorator from Monroe, N.C., who endorsed them and then sent them by FedEx to Young.
The scheme was to have Cheri Young additionally endorse the checks, using her maiden name, and deposit them into the couple’s account.
Young testified that he approached Raleigh lawyer David Kirby, Edwards’ longtime friend and one-time law partner, at one point seeking money to keep Hunter happy but did not get any.
Kirby, Young said, insisted on a signed IOU from Young, and he would not do that.
Young also approached a wealthy musician, whose name was not revealed in the trial, but again was unsuccessful in getting any money.
Young’s testimony, often difficult to hear and difficult to follow without a list of who’s who in the campaign, differed dramatically at one point from what he wrote in his book “The Politician.”
He stated in the book that he did not think funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a wealthy supporter through an interior decorator in North Carolina to his account, with his wife co-endorsing the checks using her maiden name, violated any campaign-finance laws.
But on the stand Tuesday morning, his version was much closer to the wording in the six-count indictment against Edwards.
‘Scared’ by gifts
He spoke of being “scared to death” about a scheme in which Mellon, now 101, had agreed to provide $1.2 million over time to help Edwards with expenses that were not related to the campaign.
Young said Mellon did not know the money was to provide for Hunter.
“She said she used her personal account to buy furniture and stuff like that,” Young said.
She told him she would send checks “sporadically” and that if more was needed to call the interior decorator or her.
When asked by prosecutor David Harbach why he and his wife and others involved were “scared to death,” Young stated he was worried whether it was legal, though he claimed Edwards had told him it was.
Edwards, Young said, “was a viable presidential candidate. This was a truckload of money.”
“It was way over,” Young said, presumably talking about limits on campaign contributions, and added – despite a strong objection from Edwards’ lead attorney Abbe Lowell, it was to influence the outcome of an election.
“We felt extremely uneasy about it, that it smelled and felt wrong,” Young said. “We were all scared. This was a huge thing in the middle of a presidential race and we were scared to death.”
Young, though, deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in his personal checking account, helped Hunter find housing in Chapel Hill after she complained that Edwards had cut it off with her and she was considering going to the media with news of the affair.
Young talked about letting Hunter stay with him and his family for three weeks in the Governor’s Club outside Chapel Hill, renting a house about a half-mile away using his name and giving her a bank card with access to his family account under the name R. Jaya James.
Prosecutors said Tuesday they might be finished with their questioning of Young by lunchtime Wednesday. The defense then would begin its cross-examination.