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.
On Wednesday, Young testified that while in the Washington hotel room, he overheard Edwards' half of a phone conversation with Mellon's interior designer, Bryan Huffman, who was involved in funneling the money to hide Hunter.
"You're a great American. The four of us are going to do great things for the country," Young said quoting Edwards, who was apparently referring to himself, the designer, Baron and Young.
Huffman is expected to testify later.
During Young's testimony, Edwards has stared directly at his former aide, seated about 25 feet away. Young has not once looked in Edwards' direction.
Edwards' political hopes dimmed that July when tabloid reporters photographed him at a California hotel with his mistress and baby daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, who was then 5 months old. Despite the grainy photos, Young said Edwards moved ahead with a planned overnight visit to Mellon's Virginia estate, where he was to ask the heiress to provide another $50 million to establish an anti-poverty foundation.
"He said he could be to poverty what Al Gore was to the environment," Young testified.
When he arrived, Edwards was confronted by Mellon's lawyer and accountant, who questioned him about the checks that had gone to Huffman and then to Young. That killed the plan for the foundation.
Edwards then went on national television and again denied having an affair with Hunter or fathering her child. It would be another two years before Edwards finally admitted paternity. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte
Young testified that when he saw the interview, he became incensed. He demanded another face-to-face meeting, which occurred in August 2008.
Young said he was asked to wait in his car near Edwards' estate outside Chapel Hill. Edwards pulled up in a borrowed black Suburban and waved for Young to follow.
He testified that Edwards drove erratically down rural roads, eventually stopping on a secluded dead end. Young said he was terrified.Comment on this story
Still, he got in the car with Edwards, who appeared nervous as he brought up the checks from Mellon. Young testified he was shocked when Edwards claimed he had never known about them.
Scared there was a recording device, Young said he also falsely denied knowledge of the checks. He then became angry, telling Edwards he had evidence of all that had happened in the preceding year and that he would go public.
"You can't hurt me, Andrew. You can't hurt me," Young said, quoting his former boss.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck