GREENSBORO — By Andrew Youngs account, his last face-to-face encounter with John Edwards was in a black Chevy Tahoe parked on a rural roadside not far from Chapel Hill. The meeting ended, Young said, with the former Democratic presidential candidate turning to his political aide as he exited Edwards SUV with a terse farewell: You cant hurt me Andrew.
That didnt stop Young from trying. He wrote a book revealing dark secrets of the 2008 presidential campaign. And then, after receiving immunity, took the stand as the governments lead witness against Edwards who is on trial in federal court for violating campaign finance laws.
But on Wednesday, it was Edwards turn to strike back as his lead defense attorney opened what could be days of cross-examination aimed at damaging Youngs image and credibility.
With copies of his book, transcripts of speeches, copies of campaign schedules and stacks of email and other correspondence, defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer with a Brooklyn accent, fired question after question at Young.
Young, who had little difficulty recounting events and conversations in great detail for prosecutors, often responded, I dont know or if you say so when asked by Lowell whether he had given earlier accounts that conflicted with his testimony.
Lowell accused Young of fabricating scenes and playing loosely with facts in many of his accounts.
He read from pages of The Politician, Youngs 2011 book, transcripts of Youngs speeches and copies of his emails when questions arose.
Lowell pointed out that Young had written in email messages about his utter distaste for the former Democratic presidential candidate and had conversations about how John and Elizabeth Edwards had destroyed his reputation. But Lowell noted that Young and his family had made much money through their connections to Edwards.
Young, who graduated from law school but never became a lawyer, fended off the hostile questions, sometimes saying he did not recall writing the statements Lowell read.
Toward the end of the day, Lowell posed a pointed question to Young about Edwards:
You really hate him dont you? Lowell asked the prosecutions lead witness.
I have mixed feelings, he finally said.
In his testimony for the government Wednesday morning, Young described his last meeting with John Edwards as something that could have been a scene from a crime novel or The Sopranos.
The two met about a half-mile from Edwards home just outside Chapel Hill on the side of a road not heavily traveled.
It was August 2008.
Edwards had suspended his run for president and done an ABC interview acknowledging his affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter but not claiming paternity of their child.
Young and his wife Cheri were worried about their futures, not knowing how they were going to support themselves.
Edwards, according to Young, pulled up in a black Tahoe and motioned for his campaign aide to follow him.
Young testified that he thought he had become indispensable to Edwards, first carrying his secret about his affair with Hunter, then letting her live with him and his family and falsely claiming paternity of her child.
But at this point, Edwards was no longer a name on lists of possible vice presidential candidates for the Obama ticket.
His name no longer was on any lists as a possible attorney general.
Edwards had not acknowledged being the father of Hunters child, and Young clung to that last secret with the power it yielded.
Young wrote about that in his book, Lowell pointed out. Page 192.
It made me the one friend he would open his heart to and the one person who could hurt him the most, Lowell read from Youngs own words.
On that rural road in late August 2008, Young followed Edwards along the rural roads near his home, noting that his one-time hero, the man he had a love-hate relationship with, was driving erratically.
Edwards was wearing blue jeans and a button-down shirt. He was sweating in the August heat, but the Tahoe air conditioner was on. Since his interview on ABC-TV, hed been subject to rants by his wife, Elizabeth.
Young said Edwards told him he had been sleeping in a different part of the house and Elizabeth Edwards would come in and just start screaming at him.
Edwards, at one point during that meeting, spoke of the checks from Rachel Bunny Mellon, Young said.
He said, I didnt know anything about these checks, did you? Young testified.
Young testified earlier in the week that Edwards had helped devise the scheme to get money from Mellon, going so far as to suggest that Youngs wife use her maiden name to endorse checks that went from Mellon to interior decorator Bryan Huffman to the Youngs at their Chapel Hill home.
Young said he worried then that such an arrangement was not right, but Edwards told him it was legal so he went along with it. That rushed through his mind as Edwards told him he didnt know anything about the checks and asked whether he did.
I panicked, Young said, and I said, No.
Young for months had been saving voicemails from the one-time senator and recorded his side of a phone conversation at least once.
Young said he saved the messages because he knew no one would believe it, and he was worried about his future. He had sent a note to Mellon, trying to get her to sign something saying the payments that he and his wife had been depositing in their account were gifts. Otherwise he was worried he could face tax problems.
Young said the meeting on the rural road was odd. He was suspicious and even looked in the backseat to see whether the conversation was being recorded.
They parted ways, only to be pulled together again in a trial that is shaping up to be more about John Edwards versus Andrew Young in a campaign finance case that could test the sweep of election law.