05.04.12

The Man Who Confronted Edwards About His Dangerous Infidelity Game

In 2006, an adviser to the senator sat him down and told him that if he was having an affair, it would come out, according to Friday's testimony—but Edwards blew him off. By Diane Dimond

He is far and away the most impeccably dressed witness at the John Edwards campaign-finance corruption trial. Forty-seven-year-old Bryan Huffman glided into the witness box wearing a smartly cut dark blazer, a stylish green-and-white checkered shirt, and a lighter green tie and slacks that hung just right. He was appearing for his second day of testimony as the best friend and interior decorator to billionaire Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. (Note: the first day Huffman sported a sophisticated and intricately checkered yellow-and-blue blazer, blue shirt, and yellow tie.)

As the jury heard, Huffman was the conduit for the $725,000 that Mellon gave to John Edwards—the donation that stands at the center of this case.  The so-called Bunny Money came in sporadic checks made out to Huffman in the last half of 2006, which were promptly endorsed over to Edwards’s most trusted aide, Andrew Young, for the purpose of hiding the senator’s mistress.

Prosecutor Robert Higdon asked Huffman if Mrs. Mellon, now approaching her 102nd birthday, was disturbed when she learned what her money had been used for.

“She was,” the witness replied in his genteel Southern drawl, “in that she didn’t particularly condemn people for having an affair but she thought that you should probably pay for your girlfriend yourself.”

The defense objected to the second-hand testimony and the nine-man, seven-woman jury was ushered from the room. Judge Catherine Eagles allowed the witness to continue to see where the narrative was going.

“She said we were awfully foolish with the furniture business,” Huffman said, having explained in previous testimony that the checks were marked as if they were for purchasing tables and chairs to obscure their true intention. “But she said to me, ‘We had fun—it was great!’ She knew nothing about the baby or an affair,” Huffman added. “She said all she wanted was to make a president.”

“I told him if it was true, he should not be running for president.”

The jury didn’t hear that statement, but North Carolina attorney Hampton Dellinger, who has taught election law at Duke University School of Law, declared it to be “very important,” as it was the first time any witness had described the purpose of the Bunny Money as being to “make a president.”

“All the other witnesses, from Andrew Young on down have said that it was their understanding that this money was for a personal reason, not a political one,” Dellinger told The Daily Beast. “The prosecution needs the jury to hear from someone who says the money was to get him elected president.”

Other trial watchers did not agree that saying Bunny Mellon’s description of the money’s purpose is what is at issue here—rather, they said, it was Senator Edwards intent. Did he want Mellon’s money (and hundreds of thousands more from the late billionaire Fred Baron) to cover up his affair for the sake of his dying wife, or to rescue his campaign? That is the crucial question this jury must decide during deliberations.

This day began with the best-known of John Edwards’s lawyers Abbe Lowell asking the judge, “In the world of 403 land"—referring to the legal code that judges use to force attorneys to, essentially, get on with it—"I’m wondering how many more staff members [the prosecutors] are going to call to say Mr. Edwards lied. Because we are not contesting that.”

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Judge Catherine Eagles has already invoked the 403 rule against Lowell’s team for their lengthy and repetitive cross examinations. Lowell’s subtle dig didn’t seem to faze the judge, who has appeared predisposed not to favor him as he stumbles through questioning and talks over witnesses' answers. Judge Eagles called for the first witness to take the stand without asking the prosecution to state how many more former Edwards campaign staffers might be called. Nevertheless, reporters, who are crammed into the federal courtroom’s three small rows, didn’t have to wait long to see what the prosecutors had planned.

Peter Scher, a highly experienced campaign advisor who has worked for U.S. senators, vice-presidential candidates, and logged five years in the Clinton administration took the stand mid-morning. Scher testified that he met John Edwards after the North Carolina senator had lost his bid to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee to Senator John Kerry in 2004. Kerry hired Scher to staff a vice-presidential interim office, and when Edwards was tapped for the second spot on the ticket the two men began to work together. After the Kerry/Edwards ticket failed, Scher says he remained in the Edwards’s sphere as an unpaid, outside advisor during the candidate's unsuccessful run for the 2008 presidential nomination.

In September 2006, it came to Scher’s attention that the campaign’s videographer, Rielle Hunter, was acting inappropriately and “too familiar” with the candidate during their road trips. Scher set up a face-to-face meeting with John Edwards on September 18 at the Regency Hotel in New York City.

“I told the senator I’d been hearing about Miss Hunter and her behavior on the road, and I was concerned that enough people were talking about it,” Scher told the jury. “Senator Edwards said, ‘Are you asking me if I am sleeping with her?’ And I said, ‘That’s precisely what I’m asking you.’ He said he was not.”

Scher continued: “I told him if it was true, he should not be running for president. I told him these things are not secret in the times we are living in and if true it would come out and ruin his political career.”

Over drinks at the Regency that afternoon it was mutually decided that Miss Hunter would no longer travel with the candidate. Hunter was informed of the travel ban, not happy about it, and vowed to take the matter to Senator Edwards.

Less than two months later, on October 16, Scher learned that at an airport in Chicago, Edwards had impulsively fired longtime staffer Josh Brumberger. During a screaming and cursing match in an airport lounge Edwards accused the young aide of gossiping to Scher about the Rielle “perception problem” and told him he couldn’t trust him anymore. Brumberger was left behind as the senator, Rielle Hunter, and other travelling companions boarded a plane bound for China, said Scher. The stranded Brumberger telephoned Scher for guidance.

“I was pretty angry,” Scher testified. “I called Senator Edwards directly.” The prosecutor had to ask multiple questions to learn that the tone of the call was “heated” and exactly what language was used. Scher seemed resigned to the fact that he would have to curse in open court.

“I said, ‘John, what the fuck are you doing here!?’ And he said I should back off—that he didn’t need a babysitter and that I should go fuck myself.”

At the end of the day the prosecution team announced it is prepared to rest its case-in-chief this Thursday. That means that if the government plans to call Rielle Hunter—and it remains a mystery as to which side might call her to testify—the "other woman" at the center of this case could be in the hot seat next week. Which way her unpredictable testimony might swing the jury is anybody's guess.