GREENSBORO — There was much talk Monday during the trial of John Edwards about the intentions of three people key to the case the two wealthy supporters who provided nearly $1 million to hide the defendants pregnant mistress and the defendant himself.
One is dead. One is 101 years old, and unlikely to be called to testify. The third might not take the stand in his defense.
So it was left to the government to bring forth lawyers, assistants and supporters to say what the silent parties may have been thinking when nearly a million dollars changed hands in a desperate attempt to keep Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy from the public.
The suggestions varied. Rachel Mellons lawyer said she was giving gifts to a friend. A Chapel Hill associate of Edwards said the candidate seemed well aware of the scheme and its risks.
During the early part of the day, it seemed as though a pendulum swung toward the defense team with the testimony of Mellons lawyer, Alex Forger.
Then before the trial broke for the day, the pendulum seemed to swing back toward the prosecution with testimony from Chapel Hill builder Tim Toben. He said Edwards knew details of the cross-country effort to hide Hunter that started weeks before the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses.
(Toben) puts Edwards back in the middle of the cover-up plot, back in the middle of things, said Hampton Dellinger, a Triangle lawyer and trial analyst who has been in the courtroom for most of the testimony. But Dellinger cautioned that Tobens testimony didnt speak to (Edwards) criminal intent.
Jurors will be asked to decide more than whether Edwards knew about the more than $900,000 being funneled to help support Hunter. They must decide whether Edwards knew the money violated campaign funding laws.
Toben: Edwards was aware
Toben, 53, not only recounted his role in getting a very pregnant Hunter to a private jet at Raleigh-Durham Airport in late December 2007, he also talked about several interactions and a phone call from Edwards after that.
Toben, who employed former political aide Andrew Young in 2007 and is his neighbor now, first got to know John and Elizabeth Edwards while the couple were building their large home in Orange County.
That relationship soon expanded to Toben becoming a political supporter of Edwards. He was invited to attend special events and to host a fundraising party for Edwards in his home.
Toben was among a small group of lawyers and supporters invited to see a Dave Matthews concert at Walnut Creek amphitheater, where he encountered Hunter for the first time. She talked a lot about Edwards, was clearly enamored with him, and Toben and his business partner thought she might be trouble.
She was a very attractive woman and this could be a tricky relationship , Toben said.
Though she was pregnant, wearing dark glasses at night and had a scarf wrapped around her head, Toben said Monday that he thought he recognized Hunter as the woman he picked up with Cheri and Andrew Young about a week before Christmas in 2007, taking all of them to a private jet hangar where a pilot and plane awaited.
It was either that afternoon or the next day, Toben said, that he got a call from Edwards.
He said he wanted to thank me and would never forget what I had done for him, Toben recalled.
Toben heard from Hunter a short time later. She asked him to collect photographs and a pink cellphone from the home in the gated community just outside Chapel Hill that she fled while trying to outrun National Enquirer reporters.
From that house, Toben retrieved a photo of Hunter and Edwards together, with the words Love, John written on it.
He sent all but a poster too large to mail to her in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Toben, who had given Edwards large campaign contributions, had decided to support then-Sen. Barack Obama by spring 2008.
I actually was voting against Mr. Edwards because I thought maybe the American people would forgive a mistress, but not a mistress with a baby, Toben said.
Toben also recalled a couple of meetings with Edwards in the ensuing months and years, one at Chapel Hills Lantern restaurant in summer 2008 during which he talked about hoping to set up a foundation, using the figure $50 million as his goal and mentioning Mellon as a potential donor.
The two men had a conversation in July 2009 outside the Chapel Hill furniture store that Elizabeth Edwards opened. There, Edwards told Toben he would have to choose between being friends with him or with Andrew Young.
During that conversation, according to Toben, Edwards said something to the effect of Andrew tried to bilk Mrs. Mellon out of $50 million. To me he was trying to disparage Mr. Young.
During that conversation about Young, Tobin said he recalled the 2008 conversation in which Edwards mentioned getting the same amount of money from Mellon for a foundation. That was where prosecutor Robert Higdon suggested to Judge Catherine Eagles that court proceedings might break for the day.
A friends gift
Tobens testimony, which will resume Tuesday, came after a series of witnesses that started with Forger, the New York lawyer who helps watch over Mellons finances.
Mellon, 101, has failing eyesight and some hearing loss, but a sharp mind, Forger said. The characterization of Mellon as interested in Edwards only because he was a presidential candidate was too narrow, he said.
Her view of Mr. Edwards was she liked him as a person, Forger said.
She was not as concerned about him being president as she was with supporting him in any of his endeavors, the white-haired lawyer continued.
If he wanted to be president of Duke University, she would have supported that, Forger continued. She wasnt interested in being named secretary of state or ambassador
One of Mellons basic values is loyalty, loyalty to friends, Forger added.
Despite Forgers description of Mellons intent, prosecutors have a hand-written letter from her suggesting she was aware of the campaign implications of her gifts.
In an April 21, 2007 letter to Edwards then-aide Andrew Young, Mellon said she was upset that Edwards was being criticized after his campaign funding reports disclosed that he paid $400 for a haircut.
From now on. Mellon wrote, all hair cuts, etc. that are necessary, important part of his campaign, please send the bills to me c/o Alex Forger in New York. It is a way to help our friends without government restrictions.
Nick Baldick, a 42-year-old man who has run many political campaigns since 1992, testified Monday afternoon about campaign finance law and how key people in the Edwards 2008 campaign were keenly aware of the restrictions.
Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer who died in late 2008 but is mentioned as one of the Edwards supporters who provided hundreds of thousand of dollars over the limit, was well-versed in those regulations.