Day nine of testimony in the federal campaign-financing trial of John Edwards saw four former “Edwards for President” campaign workers come and go from the witness box.
Each testified to either suspicious activity they had seen occurring between Edwards and campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, or about vicious arguments between the candidate and his wife, Elizabeth, over his suspected infidelity .
Former top aide and traveling companion John Davis provided the most detail about intrigue within the campaign. In early February 2007, long after he thought Rielle Hunter had been banned by Elizabeth Edwards, Davis ran into Hunter in the lobby of a Detroit hotel. Later that night she would come to his room to talk, said Davis. “She said she and Senator Edwards were very much in love. But he was concerned because I had seen her in the hotel.” She asked for his discretion.
The next morning, said Davis, John Edwards told him a completely different story.
“He said she had come to his room. He said she was crazy and that we need to make sure she couldn’t contact him. I didn’t ask, [but] … he proactively told me they were not having an affair.” In late September, as they campaigned through New Hampshire, Davis testified that he overheard a telephone conversation between Edwards and Rielle in which his boss asked, “Are you showing yet?”
And in perhaps the most damaging section of his testimony, Davis revealed that John Edwards had to have known about the so-called Hide Hunter project because he heard about it straight from the horse’s mouth. While sitting right next to the senator on a private plane, Edwards supporter and Texas billionaire Fred Baron (the airplane’s owner) began to brag that “the media was never going to be able to find Rielle because he was keeping her moving.” The prosecutor then asked Davis how close Edwards was to this conversation. “Our knees were about three to four inches apart,” testified Davis. "I told [Baron] to stop talking about it.”
Some court watchers inside this federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., believe that the government is playing a dangerous game by hammering away at Edwards’s and Hunter’s sexual relationship. After all, Edwards doesn’t stand accused of infidelity, but misuse of campaign funds. “The defense has already admitted there was an affair,” Raleigh-based attorney Kiernan Shanahan told The Daily Beast. “The prosecutors risk desensitizing the jury if they keep bringing it up so much.” Elon University associate dean and law professor Catherine Dunham agreed. “It’s like showing a picture of the dead body to the jury over and over,” she said. “After a while they shrug and yawn and say, ‘Oh, there’s that body again.’”
By far the most colorful witness of the trial so far has been Bryan Huffman, an interior decorator and such a dear friend of billionaire Rachel “Bunny” Mellon that she referred to him in correspondence as her “kissin’ cousin.” Huffman testified that Mellon was “euphoric” about meeting John Edwards and wanted to do all she could to help him become president.
And that she did. After the media made hay of an unflattering story about candidate Edwards getting a $400 haircut in 2007, Mellon wrote to top campaign staffer Andrew Young. The jury saw her handwritten note, which begins by declaring the haircut story had put her in a “witchy mood.” She went on to offer to pay any such bills in the future “that were necessary for Edwards’s campaign. It’s a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
So when the candidate’s mistress became pregnant in May of 2007 and it was clear Edwards couldn’t use his own money to hide her without alerting his wife, Young called Mellon (who was then in her late 90s) to ask for financial assistance, said Huffman.
“Our knees were about three to four inches apart,” testified Davis. “I told [Baron] to stop talking about it.”
“Mr. Young called,” the stylishly dressed decorator testified, “and he needed a $500,000 to $600,000 commitment over a six-month period.” Bunny Mellon, he said, devised a way to funnel periodic checks through Huffman to the Edwards organization. In all, she wrote $725,000 worth of checks this way, often listing items of furniture on the memo line to make it seem as though she and Huffman had a furniture business together. Mrs. Mellon wanted to hide the transactions from her ever-vigilant attorney, Huffman explained.
The prosecutor asked the witness whether the now almost 102-year-old Mellon had met Rielle Hunter or knew that her money was going to hide the pregnant woman and the family of Andrew Young. Huffman said his friend Bunny had no idea—one more close compatriot allegedly kept in the dark.
Huffman’s testimony continues tomorrow.