Ex-Edwards aide: Cash went to house, not mistress
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (AP) — An ex-aide acknowledged during John Edwards’ campaign finance fraud trial Thursday that much of nearly $1 million in cash from donors went to build the aide’s dream house, not to buy the silence of the presidential candidate’s pregnant mistress.
Andrew Young testified for a fourth straight day at the trial, peppered with questions from Edwards attorney Abbe Lowell about the money from two donors that flowed into personal accounts controlled by Young and his wife.
The star prosecution witness is key to the government’s case that while campaigning for the White House in 2008, Edwards directed a scheme to use the secret payments to conceal an affair with his pregnant mistress.
Edwards, whose affair shattered his carefully cultivated image as a committed family man, has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts. He faces up to 30 years behind bars if convicted.
Young has said he took secret payments from wealthy donors at Edwards’ direction to help conceal the presidential contender’s affair with Rielle Hunter and keep his presidential campaign viable.
Young said the checks secretly provided by a then-96-year-old heiress were mixed with the couple’s other funds as they built their $1.5 million hilltop house in North Carolina. Young often deferred questions on the payments to his wife, Cheri, saying “my wife is the one who handles the finances in our family.”
Young initially claimed he was the father of Hunter’s daughter and took her into his home with his wife.
Lowell asked Young about numerous changes to the construction of the North Carolina house after the payments started coming in, including a pool, home theater and extra bedroom.
At the time, Young and his wife were living with Hunter in a $20,000 a month rental mansion along the California coast, paid for by a wealthy lawyer who served as Edwards’ campaign finance chairman.
Edwards denies knowing about the $725,000 in checks from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon sent to Young through her interior designer. In addition to the maximum $2,300 to the Edwards campaign allowed by law, Mellon also provided another $6.4 million to a political action committee and anti-poverty foundation tied to Edwards.
A second pool of money at issue in the case involves another $200,000 given by the wealthy lawyer, Fred Baron. Records shown at trial show Baron paid for private jets, five-star hotels and other expenses incurred by Hunter and the Youngs while they were in hiding. Baron died in 2008 of cancer at age 61.
Young testified Thursday he had sent Baron an invoice for many of the expenses the aide had already paid for with money from Mellon; he said Baron then wired another $325,000 to the builder constructing the Young’s house.
The questions about the cash from Mellon funneled to Young’s house came towards the end of a full day of cross-examination, in which Lowell sought to undermine the ex-aide’s credibility and paint him as a pathological liar.
Lowell pointed out inconsistencies with Young’s account of the scandal at trial this week and in multiple other accounts, including grand jury testimony and his 2010 tell-all book about Edwards.
Lowell asked Young whether he first learned Hunter, was pregnant in May 2007, as his book says: in June 2007, as he testified; or in early July, a date backed by phone records and Hunter’s medical records.
The timeline issues could challenge the accounts of conversations Young said he had with Edwards in a car discussing who to ask for money to help take care of Hunter and discussing Hunter’s pregnancy.
Young said he couldn’t recall the exact date for either event, one of many times on Thursday he admitted he couldn’t remember the timing or sequence of events to which he had testified.
Lowell asked Young to recount his story of how Edwards had asked him to claim paternity of Hunter’s child on December 13, 2007. Young had said the phone conversation occurred while he was sitting in his car and had looked over to the passenger seat to see a copy of Newsweek magazine with Edwards on the front.
The defense then flashed a photo of that magazine cover up on the screens visible to the jury. It was dated two weeks later.
Seated at the defense table, Edwards appeared more upbeat than in past days, frequently smiling and whispering with his attorneys as Young testified.
Lowell also challenged Young on which amount of money Mellon said she would provide over time to help make Edwards president — $1.2 million, as he testified this week, or $900,000 and $925,000, figures he had previously given.
Young said the number he provided this week is the correct one.
By MICHAEL BIESECKER
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