Ex-Edwards aide talks about crumbling relationship

By Michael Biesecker

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this April 23, 2012, file photo, former U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards arrives at federal court in Greensboro, N.C. for his criminal trial for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. Andrew Young, once an aide and good friend to Edwards, testified on Wednesday, April 25, that the former senator stopped returning his calls in January 2008, as Edwards was ending his White House bid. The next month, Edwards' child, Frances Quinn Hunter, was born to his mistress, Reille Hunter.

Gerry Broome, File, Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Andrew Young, once a close aide and good friend to John Edwards, testified Wednesday that his relationship with the former presidential candidate began to crumble about the time Edwards dropped out of the 2008 race and his baby girl was born to his mistress.

On the witness stand for the third day in Edwards' criminal trial, Young said the former North Carolina senator stopped returning his calls in January 2008, as Edwards was suspending his White House bid after early primary losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The prior month, Edwards issued a false statement to the press, with Young claiming the child was his. Edwards said he would set the record straight after the baby was born, Young said.

Yet months passed with no call from Edwards, and Young said he and his wife had grown tired of sharing a house with the increasingly-demanding mistress, Rielle Hunter. Through an intermediary, Young demanded a face-to-face meeting with the senator, who was then in talks with the campaign of Barack Obama about becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

The two men met in a hotel room near Washington on June 18, 2008, shortly after Edwards had given a rousing speech in support of Obama. Young said he was asked to keep the secret for longer. The meeting grew intense, with the two men yelling at each other before Edwards was able to calm Young down.

"He said he loved me and that he knew that I knew he would never abandon me," Young testified.

Young is a key prosecution witness against Edwards, who is accused of conspiring to use secret payments from two wealthy donors to hide Hunter during his White House run. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations.

If convicted on all six counts, Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and as much as $1.5 million in fines.

Edwards has denied knowing about the money, much of which flowed into accounts controlled by Young and his wife, Cheri. Edwards' lawyers claim the Youngs siphoned off the bulk of the money to pay for their $1.5 million house near Chapel Hill.

Young will retake the stand Wednesday afternoon for what is expected to be days of tough cross-examination.

Discrediting Young is essential to the defense. They will question why he lied about being the father of Edwards' child, as well as question dates and details in Young's tell-all book, "The Politician."

Young testified that he flew to Texas in May 2008 with his wife to meet with one of the wealthy donors, Fred Baron, with four demands. He wanted to know why Edwards hadn't claimed paternity; he wanted a face-to-face meeting with him; he wanted to know what his long-term plans were and he wanted to stop living with Hunter.

Baron arranged for Hunter to move out of a Santa Barbara, Calif., house she was sharing with the Youngs, and he set up the meeting. But before that happened, Edwards did eventually call Young and leave a voicemail. It was played in court: "I miss talking to you Andrew. We'll see you pal."

Edwards is accused of directing Young to start giving money to Hunter in May 2007, after she threatened to go to the media and expose the affair. Edwards suggested asking elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who had already given generously to the campaign.

Prosecutors showed the jury 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 $725,000, funds that Young said Edwards and he called the "Bunny money."

Telling Mellon the money would be used for a "non-campaign" expense, Young said she offered to provide $1.2 million over time to help. Under federal law, donors are limited to giving a maximum of $2,300 per election cycle.

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