GREENSBORO — The government rested its case against John Edwards on Thursday by showing a videotape of the one-time Democratic presidential hopeful telling a now infamous lie – that he was not the father of Rielle Hunter’s child.
Judge Catherine Eagles is expected to hear defense motions Friday to dismiss the case. The jury will not be in the courtroom Friday as she listens to attorneys.
Prosecutors wrapped up Thursday with some of the driest testimony of the past three weeks, as two FBI agents discussed pages of phone records, invoices, bank statements and credit card bills. A former Edwards supporter also testified about the trial lawyer’s dreams of higher office – possibly even an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then, at 3:10 p.m. Thursday, prosecutors put up their last piece of evidence – a videotape of Edwards’ 2008 TV interview in which he acknowledged to newscaster Bob Woodruff that he had an extramarital affair with Hunter, but denied he was the father of her newborn daughter, Quinn.
In the segment aired on ABC’s “Nightline” in August 2008, Edwards told Woodruff that he was willing to take a paternity test to “establish the fact” that he was “not the father of any baby.”
Edwards later admitted he was the father of the now 4-year-old, who lives with Hunter in Charlotte.
But the paternity question is not what has forced Edwards, 58, into the small, but stately, courtroom for a trial being followed gavel to gavel by national and international news organizations.
The government, in 15 days of testimony by 24 witnesses, has tried to establish that Edwards broke campaign finance laws in his effort to hide his affair and Hunter’s pregnancy as he sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Edwards’ attorneys contend he did not break the law, but that nearly $900,000 provided by two wealthy supporters were personal gifts that went to others, not to the candidate.
In the ABC interview, Edwards told Woodruff that he “never paid a dime of money to any of these people. If the allegation is that I somehow participated in the payment of money, that’s a lie.”
The defense, in its cross-examination of witnesses, has pushed over and over to show that the bulk of the money went to Andrew and Cheri Young, the former political aide and his wife, who hopscotched across the nation with Hunter in late 2007 and early 2008 while eluding National Enquirer reporters who were investigating the affair.
The Youngs deposited $725,000 from Virginia philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon into their personal bank account. Fred Baron, the billionaire Texas lawyer who also helped support Hunter, wired nearly $300,000 to the Youngs’ builder in 2008 to put toward the construction of their $1.5 million Orange County house.
What Edwards knew
Three witnesses, in addition to the Youngs, have testified that Edwards had knowledge Baron provided support to Hunter and the daughter.
But no one testified that Edwards thought what was being provided was a campaign contribution that should have been reported and exceeded legal limits.
Former speechwriter Wendy Button, under cross-examination by defense attorney Abbe Lowell, acknowledged that Edwards did not tell her precisely what he meant when he said in August 2009 that he “knew all along” that Baron was providing support.
She said she assumed it was for the events that took place before the birth of Quinn – a key timing issue, because the baby was born after Edwards dropped out of the presidential race.
There has been much testimony during the trial that Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her battle with cancer in December 2010, did not want her husband to publicly acknowledge being the father of the baby.
But he ultimately did come out with the truth in January 2010, shortly before the publication of Andrew Young’s unflattering tell-all book about the 2008 campaign.
Edwards’ ultimate dream
Earlier Thursday, Leo Hindery, a partner with the InterMedia Partners private equity fund and a man involved with NASCAR racing, testified that he became an Edwards supporter because he was drawn to the candidate’s crusade to eradicate poverty. He described making calls to former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, a key adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, after Edwards did not win the Iowa caucus in January 2008. Hindery wanted to see whether the Obama campaign was interested in Edwards as a vice presidential candidate.
Hindery also described Edwards telling him he was interested in becoming the U.S. attorney general and of his ultimate dream to be named a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Also Thursday, the two special agents with the FBI were on the stand much of the morning as prosecutor David Harbach introduced page after page of phone records, then a series of receipts, invoices and financial records for Baron, who died in October 2008.