andrew young testifies
In his second day of testimony, Andrew Young said he felt “uneasy” about payment arrangements in which Young’s wife deposited cheques under her maiden name before passing the money to Edwards’ mistress, Rielle Hunter
“We felt the smell was wrong,” Young said. “But in the end, we decided (Edwards) knew more about the law than we did.”
Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, is accused of accepting more than $900,000 in illegal campaign contributions during his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Prosecutors say the money was meant to protect Edwards’ image as a family-first candidate; the defence says the money was a personal gift unrelated to Edwards’ political ambitions.
Young, the prosecution’s key witness, is the author of the tell-all book, The Politician. His testimony is considered crucial to the prosecution’s case, which hinges on proving that the contributions were made and accepted for the purpose of furthering Edwards’ presidential campaign.
Young’s testimony on Tuesday focused on payments made by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, an elderly banking heiress from Virginia, who, according to Young, routed money to Edwards by writing cheques to Mellon’s interior designer. The interior designer then endorsed the cheques over to Young’s wife, Cheri.
“As Bunny says, ‘To the rescue of America,’ ” reads an undated letter from the interior designer to Young, which the prosecution presented as evidence that the contributions were meant to further Edwards’ political career.
Describing how the payment scheme first began, Young told the courtroom that Mellon initially offered to help pay Edwards’ haircut bills after news of his $400 cuts threatened to tarnish Edwards’ image as a man of the people. Mellon sent a note saying she wanted to “help our friend without government restrictions,” Young said.
Young said Edwards told him that he had consulted campaign finance lawyers and that it was “completely legal” for him to accept the financial help. Still, Edwards felt that he “couldn’t know anything about this in case he got sworn in as attorney general,” Young said.
Young said Edwards told him to tell Mellon that the money would be used for a “non-campaign expense, something that would benefit him.”
Young recalled receiving a $100,000 cheque from Mellon with “for a table” written in the memo note. Young said he expressed concern to Edwards about depositing the cheque because the idea of a $100,000 table might draw attention. He said Edwards told him not to worry, that a table could cost that much.
Edwards’ relationship with Hunter was a secret to the public during the time of his presidential campaign, but it was known by Edwards’ wife Elizabeth, Young said.
Young testified that Elizabeth Edwards had started checking phone records to monitor her husband’s communications with Hunter, so Young and Edwards had a separate phone they referred to as the “bat phone,” which Edwards used to contact Hunter.
Hunter also was paid a monthly allowance, typically $5,000, at Edwards’ direction, Young said.
Hunter eventually gave birth to a child fathered by Edwards, though he denied paternity until 2010.
Young, who acted as a liaison between Edwards and Hunter, recalled becoming frustrated by Hunter’s frequent phone calls. One night in 2007, Young received a call from a distraught Hunter.
Edwards is accused of using hundreds of thousands of dollars from 101-year-old Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Fred Baron to conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter.
Young, testifying as the first witness Monday, said Mellon was an enthusiastic supporter who apologized for not being able to give more than $1 million."She said she was close personal friends with Senators John and Bobby Kennedy and felt like Edwards was the best combination of them," Young testified.
Prosecutors say Edwards broke federal law by accepting about $725,000 from Mellon and more than $200,000 from Fred Baron, a now-deceased Texas lawyer.
The money was used to pay for Rielle Hunter's living and medical expenses, travel and accommodations to quash the scandal while he sought the presidency.
Edwards is accused of concealing the money from the public and the Federal Election Commission, which polices political contributions, in the 2008 campaign.
Federal prosecutors say he filed false and misleading campaign disclosure reports to do this, though Edwards denies any (legal) wrongdoing in the case.
The defense argues the money he received from Mellon and Baron was for personal reasons - to protect Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who was dying of cancer.
Basically, he says he did it to hide his cheating from his family, and that the donors would have given the money regardless of these rare circumstances.
Of course, by concealing it from his family, he also hid it from the public, and made a serious run at the White House in the process.
Needless to say, the John Edwards trial represents a murky legal gray area.
Young, who is married, initially claimed he was the father of Hunter's child.
He went on to become the author of The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down.
In the book, he accuses Edwards of using money from his rich benefactors to maintain his relationship with Hunter, breaking the law in the process.
Edwards admitted to his affair with Hunter in 2008, after his presidential ambitions foundered. In 2010, he admitted he was the father of Hunter's daughter.
Months later, as word of the candidate's affair began to leak in the run-up to the crucial Iowa caucuses, Young said Edwards asked the aide to falsely claim paternity of the baby.
Young took the witness stand for a second day at Edwards' criminal trial. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations involving nearly $1 million in secret payments provided by two wealthy donors as he sought the White House in 2008.
Young said Rielle Hunter told Edwards she was pregnant in June 2007. Edwards then called Young and told him to "take care of it."
"He said she was a crazy slut and there was a 1-in-3 chance that it (the child) was his," Young testified.
Edwards directed him to start giving money to Hunter in May 2007, after she threatened to go to the media and expose the affair, Young said. Edwards suggested asking elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who had already given generously to the campaign.
Prosecutors showed the jury a series of cancelled checks from Mellon written to her interior designer, who would then endorse them and send them to Andrew and his wife, Cheri. Starting in June 2007, Mellon would eventually provide checks totaling $750,000.
Without telling Mellon what the money would be used for beyond that it was a "non-campaign" expense, Young said she offered to provide $1.2 million over time to help pay for the candidate's personal needs. Under federal law, donors are limited to giving a maximum of $2,300 per election cycle.