The second day of testimony at the John Edwards campaign-financing trial was like sitting down to reread the juiciest and most salacious parts of Andrew Young’s book, The Politician. In other words, it was filled with exactly the kinds of allegations that the two-time presidential candidate never wanted aired in public again.
Prosecutor David Harbach deftly walked his key witness, the 46-year-old Young, through episode after excruciating episode of romantic interludes between his boss and the woman who would become his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter—a woman Edwards was quoted by Young as calling “that crazy slut.”
Young testified that beginning in the fall of 2006, Edwards and his girlfriend went to Africa and China together. They shared hotel rooms in any number of different states, including New York and Florida. At a gathering of lawyers in Ashville, N.C., they openly flaunted their intimate relationship to the point that Edwards's oldest friend turned to Young to ask, “What the fuck is going on here?” To which Young shrugged and replied, “He’s your friend ...”
So brazen was the affair, the jury heard, that when Edwards traveled to the spot outside his hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C., where he announced his second bid for the presidency, he arrived in a car driven by Young with Hunter at his side. They had shared wine in the back of the car on the way to the site, and upon arrival the candidate turned to his top aide and allegedly whispered, “Andrew, whatever you do, don’t let Rielle get close to Elizabeth.” Unfortunately, Young told the court, the two women did cross paths at the ladies' room, and that was the moment Elizabeth Edwards's “smile turned into a glare,” and Rielle feared the relationship with John was over.
“She was upset,” Young remembered. “And she said if Mr. Edwards didn’t call her she would go public.”
It was the beginning of a very long odyssey that, according to Young, turned him into a virtual slave to his employer’s love affair. Young says he stuck it out for as long as he did out of loyalty and determination to support his wife and three children, two of whom were born with serious heart problems. Young recalled how he took out a lease for a nearby house in his name to keep Hunter’s name secret, arranged for Hunter to have a new BMW, doled out an Edwards-supplied allowance to Hunter, and put up with her frequent visits to their home—just a quarter of a mile away. “She treated us as errand people," he testified. "She was very difficult.”
Young described how he was ordered to procure a special cellphone so the lovers could secretly communicate. “We called it the Bat Phone,” Young said. “He worried that Mrs. Edwards was checking his cellphone records.” Edwards's now-deceased wife had cause for concern ever since he returned from his trip to China. As John slept off the jet lag, said Young, Elizabeth answered his ringing cellphone and immediately heard his mistress cooing about their shared love.
In the courtroom, Edwards’s posture faltered at times as he rubbed his eyes and blew air through puffed cheeks. At one point he turned to his lawyer at the defense table and mouthed the words “This is crazy ...”
“If you have had a vasectomy, Andrew, this whole cover-up is no good,” Young quoted Edwards as saying.
Young chillingly described to the jury how a National Enquirer reporter and a photographer finally tracked down the visibly pregnant Rielle at a grocery store—and then showed up at Young's home looking for comment. This testimony helped explain the tension and panic within the Edwards camp. “The kids were yelling and screaming that bad men were looking in the window at them,” Young said. He confronted two men outside while his wife called the police. No arrests were made, and the men were ushered away by the cops. They realized then that it was only a matter of time before the lid blew off the scandal.
Once the prosecutor had established that there was a clandestine nature to the affair, he turned to the pregnancy and the alleged scramble to finance hiding Hunter without Elizabeth finding out. This line of questioning most directly challenged Edwards's claim that he knew nothing about how any money was raised, where Rielle was hiding, or any particulars about Andrew Young’s actions on his behalf. The idea of a rogue aide out to line his own pockets by trading off the senator’s name seemed remote as the day of testimony evolved.
In a stunning revelation, the witness alleged the multimillionaire Edwards first asked him for a loan knowing that the Youngs had recently come into a windfall of some $400,000 on the sale of their home. Asked for his response to Edwards by the prosecutor, Young replied, “I said, ‘No, sir.’ We needed that money to build our new house.” And, Young added, “We always had trouble getting reimbursed from the office. Giving him two or three hundred dollars once in a while was one thing, but …” His voice trailed off and the point was made. (To hear Young tell it, Edwards rarely dipped into his own pocket—not even the day Young drove the lovers to a clinic to get their shots prior to their alleged trip to Africa.)
According to Young, after he turned down Edwards's request for a loan the senator instructed him to approach a dear friend, David Kirby, and ask for money. That didn’t work. Young says he and Edwards discussed the idea of asking über-wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron for financial help since he had been generous in the past. The senator nixed that idea, said Young, saying Baron was too close to his political rivals—Bill and Hillary Clinton—and, besides, Baron was “too much of a gossip.”
Then, serendipitously, a note from one of Edwards' richest donors arrived offering help. Rachel “Bunny” Melon wanted John to be the next president so he could “rescue America.” Young said she sent a handwritten note suggesting she could funnel checks through her trusted interior decorator as a way “to help our friend (Edwards) without government restrictions.” Edwards called Bunny Mellon after receiving the letter and, according to Young, announced, “She was good to go!”
The Bunny note was displayed on the courtroom’s big screen and the jurors strained forward in their seats to study it. They also leaned in to see several checks from Mellon ranging from $10,000 to $150,000 made out to decorator Bryan Huffman and co-signed by Young’s wife using her maiden name, Cheri Pfeiffer. In addition, the nine men and seven women on the jury panel saw a string of emails from Young to other staffers urging them to get Edwards on the phone to Bunny to thank her after each check came in.
If true, the revelations put Edward smack in the middle of knowing exactly where that money came from and that it was used to finance his mistress’s secret lifestyle. And if Andrew Young is to be believed, he was following Edwards’s orders by depositing the checks in the Young’s personal bank account. “That was a truckload of money,” Young told the court. “More money than ever went through our account before. It was crazy! My wife was scared to death. We were all scared to death!”
Under oath, Young insisted he expressed his concerns to Edwards about whether these kinds of transactions were legal. “He said he had talked to several campaign finance advisers and it was perfectly legal,” testified Young.
“Did you believe him?” prosecutor Harbach asked. After a long pause Young answered, “We were uneasy. It smelt wrong. But we figured he knew more about the law than we did, so we went along.”
After the Dec. 12, 2007, grocery store run-in with the National Enquirer, it was clear Rielle Hunter needed to go somewhere safe. It was around this time, Young told the jury, that he got the first phone call from Edwards suggesting he claim paternity of Rielle’s baby as a way to give the media what they wanted. “He said, 'Andrew, they don’t give a shit about you. They’re after me.'” Young testified that because he believed in the candidate and his causes he agreed to the harebrained scheme to take his family and Rielle far away. (In opening statements Edwards's attorney declared it was Andrew Young’s idea—and his alone—to claim he was the baby’s father as a way of keeping ties to the wealthy Edwards.)
Young’s public statement claiming paternity was issued Dec. 15, 2007. As far as anyone else knew it was a routine matter of two campaign staffers having an affair—nothing more.
On Dec. 18, 2007, right before Christmas, Edwards allegedly arranged for Texas billionaire Baron to send a private jet to spirit away the Young family and his increasingly inconvenient mistress. For the next several months, as far as Young knew, Baron bankrolled all travel, housing, and living expenses, from luxury hotels and homes in Florida and Aspen, Colo., to a magnificent rental home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
And the prosecutor painstakingly made the case that over all the weeks and months, Edwards stayed in touch with both his lover and his most loyal (if blinded) aide, Andrew Young. The jury heard Edwards’s voicemail messages to the nomads. Edwards told them he was “thinking of them” and wondered if they were able to see him on Larry King one night. But, Young said, Edwards was always careful to say, “Don’t tell me exactly where you are. Then I won’t have to lie if asked.”
Somewhere along the unfocused travel, Young got wind that some campaign staffers were saying nasty things about him, picking up Elizabeth Edwards’s mantra that he was a terrible employee. He told the jury he called Edwards and confronted him and that the candidate said he would take care of it. But he didn’t, said Young. Suddenly, there was a New York Times reporter confronting an Edwards press person claiming to have a medical report showing that Andrew Young had gotten a vasectomy years earlier and couldn’t possibly be the father of Rielle Hunter‘s baby.
In perhaps the most damning testimony of the day, Young related a panicked phone call from Edwards in which he nervously asked his staffer if he had undergone such surgery. “If you have had a vasectomy, Andrew, this whole cover-up is no good,” Young quoted him as saying. Young said the truth was that he had never had such a procedure.
Young is expected to be on the stand for most of the week and cross-examination is sure to be lengthy.
Still to be explained: where did all that Bunny Money go that flowed into the Youngs' bank account? The prosecution will have to account for it lest it look as though Andrew Young is the villain in this saga. During opening statements the defense claimed Andrew and Cheri Young diverted all that money to build their $1.5 million mansion. But today's devastating testimony for the prosecution certainly made it appear as if it went into Edwards's house of cards.
The trial of John Edwards begins today and you may be surprised who's coming to his defense. John Avlon reports in today's Campaign Chronicles.
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