John Edwards

05.15.12

Is the Edwards Defense Team Losing It?

John Edwards’s attorney appeared unprepared for the second day in a row as he struggled to get his witnesses to the stand—and said he may call Rielle Hunter tomorrow. By Diane Dimond

Lead defense attorney Abbe Lowell looked worried at the end of the 17th day of testimony at the John Edwards trial. After the jury had filed out he turned to his co-counsel at the defense table and whispered, “I don’t know what I’m going to say about the witnesses.” 

Video screenshot

Diane Dimond reports that Cate Edwards didn’t take the stand, but Rielle Hunter might.

Judge Catherine Eagles, who has chastised and scolded Lowell on several occasions during this trial, has made it a habit to ask for witness information at the end of each day so there are no surprises.

“Mr. Lowell, what about the witnesses for tomorrow?” Eagles asked right on cue.

“Well, we will—finish up with Mr. Walsh,” the attorney said, rising from his seat and referring to the retired FBI forensic analyst who had been on the stand for much of that day. “And there’s the possibility of calling Cate Edwards…The defendant may still testify…And...”—there was a slight pause as he looked to his left where the rest of the defense team sat—“we are contemplating the option of calling Miss Hunter.”

A murmur hummed through the courtroom. Had the defense just said they might call to the stand the woman who was John Edwards’s mistress and mother of his youngest child? Was Lowell tossing her name into the pot of possible witnesses because he had to say something to Judge Eagles, or was the defense seriously thinking about putting the unpredictable Hunter at the center of this high-stakes proceeding? Reporters and court watchers immediately began making plans to get to the courthouse early the next morning, just in case there was a long line of people wanting to catch a glimpse of the presidential candidate’s infamous “other woman.” 

As the defense team moves toward resting its case later this week, it took considerable time on Tuesday questioning the principal officer of Walsh and Associates. James Walsh is a 25-year veteran of the FBI’s white-collar crime unit, and the defense hired him to do a forensic analysis of the finances of the prosecution’s key witness, Andrew Young. The analysis was aimed at answering the question on so many court watchers’ minds: What happened to the “Bunny Money”—the $725,000 that Rachel “Bunny” Mellon gave to Andrew Young, which was then used to get the pregnant Hunter out of North Carolina and far from the grasp of the prying media? 

Defense attorney Alison Van Landingham conducted the lengthy questioning of Walsh, displaying graphs and long lists of itemized records of the Youngs’ spending. Walsh calculated that between June 2007 and May 2008, billionaire Edwards supporters Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron funneled a total of $1.07 million to Young so that he and his wife, their three children, and Rielle Hunter could remain in hiding.

After several hours of testimony explaining his calculations, some jurors seemed to zone out. One young female juror who is listed as being a pharmacist yawned. A restaurant employee and a mechanic in the back row of the jury box rocked in their chairs and rested their heads against the wood paneling behind them. But juror No. 2 (a financial consultant) and juror No. 8 (a retired accountant) seemed attentive and took notes. Walsh’s conclusion was that a large portion of the Bunny Money went to build and furnish a $1.6 million estate for Andrew and Cheri Young in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Earlier in the day, witness John Moylan, a lawyer and longtime friend of John and Elizabeth Edwards, took the stand and also mentioned the Mellon money. Moylan testified about the time period around August 2008, after John Edwards had been caught by a National Enquirer reporter and photographer at the Beverly Hilton Hotel visiting Hunter and his baby daughter. Edwards had then done an interview with ABC News where he admitted paternity of the baby. Moylan told the court that at this point, Elizabeth Edwards called him for help.

“Elizabeth wanted John to have someone to talk to. It was obviously a very tense time, right after the ‘confession’ on national TV. Elizabeth was very upset,” Moylan said. “I was glad to be there to help.” The couple was undergoing some sort of marriage counseling at the time, according to the witness, but it was decided that the men should go away for a few days. After spending three or four nights at a South Carolina beach John Edwards suggested they visit Mrs. Mellon on Aug. 14, 2008. Her private plane was sent to ferry the men to Mellon’s Upperville, Va., estate.

“Senator Edwards just had a major implosion in his life and he was talking about what came next. He thought Mrs. Mellon could be instrumental in that.”

As they talked in the sitting room, Moylan testified, Mellon suddenly brought up the fact that she had been sending checks to Andrew Young via her trusted interior decorator, Bryan Huffman. Moylan was asked to explain what John Edwards’s reaction was to that news.

“He was as surprised to hear it as I was,” Moylan said. 

On cross examination prosecutor Jeffrey Tsai asked the witness, “Mr. Edwards appeared surprised, is that right?” 

“Yes,” Moylan replied, bolstering the defense team’s inference that Andrew Young had asked Mellon for the money for Hunter on his own and without John Edwards’s knowledge. “I believe we were both hearing of those transactions for the first time,” Moylan added.

“Senator Edwards just had a major implosion in his life and he was talking about what came next.”

Tsai then displayed on the courtroom’s big screen government exhibit number 40-T and asked Moylan to read it to himself. It was the transcript of a voicemail John Edwards had left for Andrew Young on Aug. 12, 2008—two days before Moylan and Edwards’s trip to Mellon’s farm. The jury had heard the voicemail earlier in the proceedings.

“Uh, hey, it’s me. It’s 8:30. I just spoke with Bunny. Everything’s on go. Her pilot’s gonna pick us up at 10 a.m. Thursday morning, uh, flying to her place. We’ll have lunch together—her, me, and Moylan.”

“Immediately after the lunch, she and I will break out into a private session for a couple of hours,” the voicemail continued. “That’s when we’ll do our work, including the work about you, and makin’ sure you’re, uh, protected and included and then we’re spending the night, which she wants us to do. And, I’ll see her again on Friday morning to get everything confirmed. So, uh, I think we’re in very good shape with her. Uh, she was wonderful on the phone tonight and very happy. So, anyway, this is, uh, John Moylan’s phone I’m using since, uh, uh, I don’t have one but, uh, I wanted you to hear that message. Keep, keep your head up, pal. You can do this. Bye.”

Apparently Moylan was unaware that Andrew Young had testified that on Edwards’s instruction he approached Mrs. Mellon months earlier about financing an anti-poverty center and, after a rough patch over how much money would be needed, they were already into deep discussions about establishing such a foundation. Young testified that John Edwards knew full well that Bunny Money was being used to fix his mistress problem. Moylan also may not have known that decorator Bryan Huffman testified that John Edwards called him to say Huffman would be a member of the poverty center’s board once it was established. 

The prosecution clearly wanted the jury to grasp that the Moylan-Edwards-Mellon Aug. 14, 2008 meeting was no random visit, but rather a continuation of a long financial arrangement with the now 101-year-old Mellon.

Testimony continues tomorrow. While it seems a safe bet that 30-year-old daughter Cate Edwards will be a witness (the judge gave her a family exemption to sit in court during testimony—witnesses are not usually allowed to do that) at this writing it is still not known if Senator Edwards or Rielle Hunter will take the stand.

The defense has predicted it will rest its case by the end of this week—maybe as early as tomorrow.