Authors: Carmen Cox
(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- John Edwards' former aide testified Tuesday that he and his wife were "scared to death" as they accepted checks as large as $150,000 marked as payment for furniture when the money was really meant to help hide Edwards' affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter.
The testimony by the prosecution's key witness, Andrew Young, came on day two of Edwards' trial, in which he is accused of conspiring with others to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions during the 2008 presidential race to cover up his affair.
Young testified Tuesday that Edwards had approached several people about donating money that he needed and that most said no.
In the spring and early summer of 2007, Edwards told Young to "approach [Bunny] Mellon and ask for a non-campaign expense, something that would benefit him," Young said Tuesday.
Edwards suggested Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a wealthy philanthropist, because she had offered to help pay for some of Edwards' personal expenses after his notorious $400 haircuts became a campaign issue.
Young also testified about the complex system they allegedly devised in order to keep the money trail away from the campaign.
Mellon made the personal checks out to her friend and interior decorator, who would co-sign checks with Young's wife in the wife's maiden name, he said. He testified that Mellon was very businesslike.
"I told her it was a non-campaign event and it would benefit Mr. Edwards and we needed her help," Young told the court Tuesday.
Young said his wife would then deposit the checks into their own account.
"She thought it was crazy and was scared to death," Young said Tuesday about his wife's initial reaction. "My wife was scared. We were scared. He [Edwards] was a viable presidential candidate."
Eventually his wife relented, he said, as Edwards insisted that it was not illegal and that no one was going to get in trouble.
"This was a truckload of money -- more money than had ever flew through our account," Young said. "Edwards said it was completely legal, that it was a non-campaign expense. There might be some tax consequences for the donors, but not for us."
The first two checks from Mellon were $10,000 and $25,000 in the summer of 2007, he said. By September more checks were received in the amounts of $65,000, $100,000 and $150,000, he said. They came with notes on the subject line that they were for "antique Charleston table" and other pieces of furniture, he testified.
Young testified that although he and his wife felt uneasy and that the plan "smelled wrong," they thought Edwards, who was a lawyer, knew more about the law than they did.
Young stared straight ahead during his testimony and Edwards stared straight at Young.
Young, a once-close friend and political aide to Edwards, is accused of funnelling money to Hunter and falsely claiming that her child was his. Young, who is married with three children, took an immunity deal with the prosecution. He has maintained that the plan to hide Hunter was Edwards' idea.
Edwards' former aide also described how people around the campaign and Edwards' wife began to notice that the candidate was having an affair.
Young said that he and Edwards were having drinks with the former senator's then-law partner David Kirby and Hunter.
Young testified that Kirby had asked him "What the f--k is going on?" after seeing Hunter and Edwards cuddling.
"He's your friend," Young said he told Kirby at the time. "You know him better than I do."
Young also talked about the moment when Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, realized something was going on. John Edwards was asleep and Hunter called his cellphone. Elizabeth Edwards picked up and didn't say anything as Hunter started talking because she thought it was her lover who had picked up.
After Elizabeth Edwards hung up without speaking, she woke her husband and told him to fire Hunter.
John Edwards fired Hunter the next morning, but the relationship continued. Elizabeth Edwards, who was battling cancer at the time, switched cellphones with her husband. But to get around this, Young would call to talk to John Edwards and then would three-way call Hunter so they could speak to one another without Elizabeth Edwards finding out.
Young testified that when John Edwards found out that Hunter was pregnant, he was angry and very concerned.
"He said that she was a crazy slut and there was only a one-in-three chance that it was his child," Young testified.
He said in mid-December, in what he compared to a campaign stump speech, Edwards asked him to claim paternity of Hunter's unborn child.
"He talked about how this was bigger than all of us -- getting kids out of Iraq, didn't want Mrs. Edwards to die with this splashed all over the tabloids," Young testified.
Even with the National Enquirer citing the Edwards affair but not naming Hunter, Young said Edwards said the media would eventually lose interest if they thought it was a relationship between two staffers.
"They don't give a s--t about you," Young said Edwards told him. "They want me."
During opening statements Monday, prosecutor David Harbach said that John Edwards had made a choice to break the law.
But Edwards' defense team countered Monday that the former lawmaker's actions were not illegal.
"The truth may be a sin, but it is not a crime," said Edwards' attorney Allison Van Laningham. "Follow the path of money....The evidence will show it went into the pockets of Andrew and [wife] Cheri Young."
Edwards faces six charges, including one count of conspiracy, and up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
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