GREENSBORO — A former speechwriter for John Edwards testified Tuesday that the former presidential candidate told her in 2009 that he knew all along that a wealthy lawyer was providing support to his pregnant mistress.
Wendy Button, 43, recounted conversations she had with the 2008 Democratic presidential contender as she helped him draft a statement a year and a half after he dropped out of the race to acknowledge he, indeed, had a daughter with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign videographer.
Edwards, 58, is on trial in a Greensboro federal courtroom, accused in a campaign finance case of conspiring to secretly obtain nearly $1 million from two wealthy supporters to hide the relationship and pregnancy from the media.
Button, a writer who takes volumes of notes while talking on the telephone and doing other activities, was on the witness stand Tuesday afternoon.
She combed through her notebooks as she recounted a series of phone calls with Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, in summer 2009.
She had offered to help Edwards with a statement in which he would acknowledge the lie he told a year earlier, during an ABC interview, in which he did not acknowledge paternity of Frances Quinn, now 4.
It was an issue close to Button because of something similar in her own family, she said without elaborating further.
As she and Edwards talked about what he might say, when he might say it and where, she asked many questions and jotted many notes.
Edwards told her he had wanted to tell the truth about Frances Quinn since November 2008, that “she was not a mistake, he made a mistake.”
Button probed further, hoping, she said, to help him craft an encompassing statement that would get at all the issues swirling at that point.
Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer and former national finance chairman of the Edwards 2008 campaign, had provided monetary support to Hunter while she hid from National Enquirer reporters in California.
Baron sunk nearly $300,000 into the construction of the 6,000-square-foot home that Cheri and Andrew Young built in Orange County, and he had provided private flights and picked up hotel and resort bills while the Youngs and Hunter hopscotched across the country, according to prosecutors. .
“He said he had known all along that Fred had been taking care of things,” Button said, recalling Edwards’ comments. “But he didn’t know the details.”
Button had wanted to include an apology to Baron and to Young, his former aide who had falsely claimed paternity of Hunter’s child at Edwards’ request.
But Edwards said any public apology would not include Young, who later wrote an unflattering book about Edwards and has testified against him at the trial.
“He said Andrew was a bad guy,” Button recalled.
Edwards told Button that he did not find out that Rachel “Bunny” Mellon had been providing support until shortly before their conversations in summer 2009.
He told her, though, that “other friends had been involved right away” when he learned Hunter was pregnant.
Button will return to the witness stand Wednesday. Jennifer Palmieri, a former aide for Elizabeth Edwards, is also scheduled to testify Wednesday.
Button’s testimony capped a day that started with testimony from Tim Toben, an Edwards supporter who turned against him.
The defense team peppered the Chapel Hill builder with questions to show that he made many disparaging remarks against Edwards, and helped the former senator’s disgruntled former aide, Young, shape the message of his tell-all book.
Toben, a neighbor of Young who helped spirit a very pregnant Rielle Hunter out of town in late December 2007, testified for the government on Monday.
Toben, developer of Greenbridge condominiums in Chapel Hill, testified that Edwards called him after he drove Hunter and Andrew and Cheri Young to a private jet at Raleigh-Durham International Airport for the start of their hopscotching across the country, trying to outrun National Enquirer reporters.
His testimony put Edwards back in the middle of what prosecutors contend was an attempt to hide Hunter from the public, which prosecutors say violated campaign-finance laws.
But on Tuesday, Greensboro defense attorney Allison Van Lanigham turned the tenor of the trial back to one that was as much John Edwards versus Andrew Young as it was the government versus John Edwards.