As onetime senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards arrives at court each day with an entourage befitting a man still running for public office—three lawyers, his daughter, his elderly parents, and assorted assistants—Andrew Young, in contrast, arrives alone.
Edwards arrives at the Greensboro, N.C., federal courthouse in an SUV with tinted windows and a burly bodyguard-looking driver at the wheel. Edwards always sits in the back, dressed impeccably in form-fitting suits and pastel ties. Young arrives in a midsize Dodge driven by a federal agent who is there not to pamper him but to make sure no one approaches or speaks to him.
After everyone is seated in the court gallery, Young is told to wait outside the door in a small vestibule where the preacher’s son dips his chin and seems to pray until he is called inside to testify. When he enters to take his seat in the witness chair, Young, always wearing an off-the-rack black suit, keeps his eyes on a spot on the floor about six feet in front of him. He never looks over at the man who he says “abandoned” him and his family—until Friday, his last day of his testimony.
Over the five days that whistleblower Andrew Young occupied center stage at this criminal trial, he seemed to undergo a metamorphosis. The prosecutor, David Harbach, led him through two days of testimony focused on the crux of their case—that Edwards and Young conspired with others to raise close to a million dollars in illegal campaign contributions and then used that money to hide the politician’s pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.
Andrew Young, sitting stiffly in the witness box, kept his answers short but informative and punctuated them in the Southern tradition with “No, sir" or “Yes, sir.”
Then, it was time for a withering cross examination.
For three days, defense attorney Abbe Lowell was determined in his effort to paint Young as a conniving, money-hungry liar who used the senator’s “mistress problem” as a way to line his own pockets. Young was forced to admit that the donated money that flowed through his bank account made him and his wife lose focus as they tried to finish building their Chapel Hill, N.C., home from afar while running from the media. At one point, a longtime Edwards supporter, Texas billionaire Fred Baron, wired $335,000 dollars to the Youngs' builder to hurry construction. In turn, the Youngs added an extra bedroom, a home theater, and a $100,000 swimming pool. “We lost perspective,” Young admitted. “The house got bigger.”
"I was scared. We were in the middle of nowhere. I thought he might have a gun or a tape recorder. It was bizarre."
In response to Lowell’s sometimes snarky questions, a painfully nervous-looking Young often lapsed into short, curt answers that included the phrases, “I can’t recall” or “I don’t remember.” He began to look evasive, and the jury of nine men and seven women displayed what court observer and Elon University law professor Michael Rich described as “some decidedly unfriendly posture.”
But everything changed Friday, Young’s last day on the stand. He seemed to walk into court invigorated and ready to fully answer whatever loaded question Lowell might lob at him. It was a completely different Andrew Young, perhaps because he knew his time on the stand was winding down. Out in the vestibule, this reporter saw a hint of a smile on Young’s face at the beginning of the day, and once in the witness chair his posture relaxed and he displayed surprising passion and emotion.
The first hint that something was different in Young’s demeanor came when Lowell questioned him about the last face-to-face meeting he’d had with Edwards, on Aug. 18, 2008, at the defendant’s request, on an isolated country road in Chapel Hill. Lowell asked Young if he had been scared when Edwards motioned to him to get in a car in such a remote spot and then denied knowing that Rachel “Bunny” Mellon had given them $725,000 dollars.
“At one point I was scared for my life!” Young said emphatically.
“Did you think Mr. Edwards would do you harm?”
“Not Mr. Edwards, personally …” Young said.
“Did you think he’d have people out there to shoot you?” Lowell pressed.
“Yes,” Young said in a firm voice. “It crossed my mind. I was up against two billionaires and a millionaire. I was scared. We were in the middle of nowhere. I thought he might have a gun or a tape recorder. It was bizarre.”
It was at this meeting that Young said he insisted Edwards “come clean” and tell the truth about having forced him to falsely accept paternity of Hunter’s baby nearly a year earlier. “I said if he wasn’t going to tell the truth as he had promised he would, I was going to tell the truth about what transpired.”
Lowell zeroed in on Young’s angry threat to Edwards during that roadside meeting, in which he told the senator that he had saved emails, voice mails, texts, photographs, and that infamous sex tape of Edwards and Hunter and was prepared to go public.
“What was it you were going to do exactly?" Lowell asked.
“I don’t recall having a clear train of thought on what I was going to do. My father was dying [and] we were not allowed to communicate with anyone—even our own families. We had to move to California. He had completely abandoned us. We’d done everything he had told us to do. I was extremely angry!”
Lowell made much of items Young had listed on a reimbursement spreadsheet with the heading “Expenses Due to the Affair,” which included a Disney cruise, a day of skiing while they hid from the press in Colorado, and a visit to LEGOland and the San Diego Zoo while they were lying low in California. Among other things, Lowell accused Young of selling photographs to the media that belonged to Rielle Hunter. Young denied it.
In winding up the cross examination Lowell picked up a copy of Young’s book about the Edwards scandal and reminded him that he had written that someone on the outside looking in might conclude he was a “cold blooded schemer who was motivated by ego or greed or the desire for power.” There was a deliberate pause and Lowell asked, “Isn’t that exactly what you are?”
“No, sir, I am not.” Young said.
Prosecutor David Harbach then asked Young to clarify the questionable items on his reimbursement list. And what about his characterization during a media book tour that, “Ironically, it was a great vacation” for his three children? That’s when Young let his emotions loose.
“For all of the stress and strain this put on my wife and family ...” Young hesitated and the room went quiet in the way it does when sudden and unexpected passion emerges. “My wife …” his voice cracked as he put his head down into his left hand for a moment and rubbed his forehead, “who is a wonderful person—somehow managed to keep my kids balanced.” The trips were apparent diversions for the children who had been torn away from their lives in North Carolina right before Christmas 2007 and were living in a series of strange places.
“Mr. Lowell asked you if you hate Mr. Edwards and you said you had ‘mixed feelings’ about that. Can you explain?” the prosecutor asked. The answer would be one of the last things the jury heard from Andrew Young.
“The first several years I worked for Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were a true privilege. He was a great man. I thought I was part of something good that would lead to good things for my family,” he said in a slow and quiet voice. But over the nine years he worked for John Edwards, he changed into a “direct contradiction to the man I knew back then,” said Young. “It’s hard for me to put them together.”
Young’s diminutive wife, 38-year-old Cheri, took the stand late Friday, and while she testified for just 30 minutes, the jury paid close attention. “Cheri brought the human element into it,” said Steven Friedland, a former federal prosecutor and professor of law at Elon University who has been monitoring the trial. “Cheri comes there and corroborates him by saying, ‘Yes, we gave the Edwardses everything.' ”
Indeed, during her short time on the stand Cheri revealed a very different personality than her buttoned-up husband. She wasn’t afraid to immediately list the ways she felt the Edwards family had treated Andrew badly over the year—and taken advantage of his devoted nature. It provided a revealing inside look at the dynamic of their relationship.
“I can’t tell you how much he did for them,” she said in a soft but firm voice. According to her testimony, Andrew Young took care of the Edwardses' cars and their two North Carolina homes while they were in Washington. He helped any and all family members, including daughter Cate, who once left her purse on an airplane and called on Young to find it. He went to Florida to help Elizabeth’s elderly parents move into an assisted-living facility. Cheri told the court she tried to help her husband with the torrent of expected duties. “I had to pick up dry cleaning, do grocery shopping, picking up meals and delivering them. One time the Secret Service locked me in the house when I came to deliver the food! When I was pregnant I went over to provide child care for the Edwardses—while they were home.” She emphatically emphasized the last four words for the jury.
Mrs. Young admitted there was tension in her marriage because of her husband’s job. Why? She was asked and she bluntly answered: “Because he was not able to do those things for my family.”
Cheri Young’s testimony continues into next week and is expected to peel back the curtain on even more Edwards family secrets.
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.
From secret cellphone conversations to spiriting his mistress away on a jet, the allegations against John Edwards on Tuesday were relentless.
Reclusive philanthropist Bunny Mellon talks exclusively to NEWSWEEK about life, and secrets buried in her gardens.
In his hometown, residents see the ex-senator and former favorite son as disgraced and dishonored.