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10.07.10

The Secret Witnesses Against Edwards

The case has taken a dramatic turn, The Daily Beast’s Diane Dimond reports. There are now a whopping 20 subpoenas and the investigation may well stretch beyond the Rielle Hunter controversy, and perhaps extend to the inner workings of his former Senate office, or even to the actions of Elizabeth Edwards.

John Edwards, the millionaire trial lawyer-turned-presidential aspirant-turned-tabloid target, might have thought he’d dodged a bullet when the long investigation into whether he funneled campaign money to Rielle Hunter, the mother of his 2-year-old love child, seemed to stall.

But with news that U.S. Attorney George Holding has issued as many as 20 subpoenas, bringing a whole new gaggle of secret witnesses to the grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina, the case has taken an dramatic turn. Why are the subpoenas being issued now—two years after the investigation began? And who are these secret witnesses? The heart of the case lies with those answers.

First, the timing. My sources confirm that Holding’s investigators, having reconstructed how they believe former Edwards’ Senate staffer Andrew Young bankrolled hiding the pregnant Hunter for his boss, took their findings to Washington. Given the national scope and political sensitivity, they determined that the top dogs at the U.S. Justice Department should decide whether to continue targeting the former presidential candidate. By all accounts, including sources close to the case that I spoke with, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s team realized there was enough “there” there to keep the Edwards case active. The Justice Department not only approved the investigation should continue, full steam ahead, but also ordered the latest round of subpoenas.

The sheer number of subpoenas is a telling clue. According to former Edwards staffers who wish to remain anonymous, there were far fewer than 20 people in the loop about how Edwards funded his “Hide Hunter” scheme. Furthermore, those in the inner circle of confidants—including Chief of Staff Miles Lackey; Jonathan Price who, according the sources, “handled all things Rielle;” and Nick Baldick and Alexis Barr, who possessed the check-writing ability connected to Edwards’ nonprofit groups—are believed to have already testified before the grand jury. So these subpoenas seem to indicate that the feds are looking beyond questions surrounding how Hunter got money.

The next clue comes via a source who is familiar with the inner workings of the case and who has been close to Edwards for years. This person tells me that these newly subpoenaed witnesses are primarily Washington, D.C.-based. That hints at the possibility that prosecutors might be looking past the presidential campaign itself and toward how Edwards’ operated his former Senate office—and perhaps even to the actions of Edwards’ estranged and cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth.

Two people who used to be amid the senator’s inner circle say that such a theory is floating around the network of former Edwards aides. Other former staffers have told me how Elizabeth used them like “virtual house servants” to perform personal tasks they never should have been asked to undertake, from picking up dry cleaning, to chauffeuring Elizabeth to and from the Edwards’ D.C. home. “It was just not right,” says one staffer.

The sheer number of subpoenas is a telling clue.

Imagine if Elizabeth gets caught in this mess, or if John Edwards, worth tens of millions of dollars, goes to trial not because he lied about a mistress, a love child, and how he paid to hide his second family from the media—but rather the arrogance of thinking there was no need to hire domestic help for his wife. This case may only get more interesting.

Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered all manner of celebrity and pop culture stories. Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi which uncovered the full story behind Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the so-called "White House Gate Crashers". Dimond has written extensively about the John Edwards sex scandal for the DailyBeast and she first broke the news that King of Pop Michael Jackson was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist Michael Schoen.