Prosecutors detail money to Edwards mistress
Edwards leaving court (May 2)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — As they prepared to rest their case against John Edwards, prosecutors showed the jury records on Thursday detailing the money spent to hide the former presidential candidate’s mistress.
The evidence at Edwards’ campaign corruption trial showed more than $319,500 in cash, luxury hotels, private jets and a $20,000-a-month rental mansion were used to keep Rielle Hunter away from the tabloid media as her paramour ran for the White House.
The bills, flashed up on a large screen for the jury, were all paid by Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer who served as Edwards’ 2008 campaign finance chairman.
Baron began paying the expenses after tabloid reporters tracked down the pregnant mistress in Chapel Hill, where she had been secretly living in a house rented for her only a few miles from the Edwards family estate. Hunter was being watched over by a close aide to Edwards, Andrew Young, who falsely claimed paternity of boss’ baby as the tabloid prepared to expose the affair.
As part of the cover-up, Baron paid for Hunter — and Young and his wife — to cross the country on private flights worth more than $80,000 and stay in waterfront hotel suites costing nearly $44,000, including bar tabs and frequent room service. Baron also leased a mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the mistress as she prepared to give birth, with total costs over the next eight months totaling $184,378.
The costs were detailed as prosecutors planned to wrap up their case after 14 days of testimony from some of Edwards’ closest friends and advisers. Prosecutors were not expected to call Edwards’ mistress to the stand.
Edwards’ defense team will begin presenting their case Monday and may call Hunter to testify. Edwards could also take the stand in his own defense.
Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations. Prosecutors say he masterminded a scheme to use nearly $1 million in secret payments from Baron and 101-year-old heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon to hide his affair and keep his presidential campaign viable.
Edwards denies knowing about the secret payments, which his lawyers contend were gifts from friends rather than campaign contributions. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Much of the money was spent after Edwards suspended his campaign at the end of January 2008 after a string of losses in the early primary states. Prosecutors contend it was still campaign money because Edwards had lofty ambitions for his political future.
Former Edwards economic policy adviser Leo Hindery testified Thursday he was an intermediary between Edwards and former Sen. Tom Daschle, who was then with Barack Obama’s campaign. On the night Obama won the Iowa caucuses, Edwards asked Hindery to talk to Obama’s camp.
“He asked me to reach out to the Obama campaign and make clear his availability on the ticket,” Hindery said.
Daschle responded: “You really want me to do this now?” Hindery quoted him as saying.
The jockeying didn’t end there. When Obama didn’t accept Edwards with open arms, he started talking to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Hindery said.
Earlier in the trial, adviser Tim Toben said he was astonished when Edwards told him in June 2008 he still had a desire to become Obama’s running mate or fill his Cabinet.
“I was alarmed,” Toben testified. “I couldn’t believe a man with a 4-month-old baby with another woman would seriously consider running for vice president.”
Hindery also testified about meeting Young in February 2009. Hindery said Young came to him for advice about writing a book, since Hindery had already penned two business books. Young was nervous, felt he didn’t have a future and indicated he was on financial hard times.
“He was as sad a young man as I’ve ever been around at that point,” Hendry said.
Young has acknowledged on the witness stand that much of nearly $1 million in campaign supporters’ cash went to build his North Carolina dream house, not to buy the silence of the presidential candidate’s pregnant mistress.
However, he and his wife have also testified that some of the money went to hide Hunter.
Credit: The Associated Press. Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck.