As the prosecution prepared to rest, John Edwards uttered something that suggests he thinks he’s won—but two mystery federal agents testifying tomorrow may change that. By Diane Dimond.
Toward the end of court on Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it would rest its campaign-finance corruption case against former Senator John Edwards the next day. Prosecutors said they would call just three more witness: two federal agents and a wealthy Democratic Party operative named Leo Hindery, who served as senior economic policy adviser during Edwards’s aborted campaign for president in 2008.
Diane Dimond on Jennifer Palmieri’s tearful testimony.
Note that as they wrap up their case-in-chief against the former senator one name remains conspicuously absent from their witness list: Edwards’s mistress Rielle Hunter.
After this announcement, as the lawyers and spectators gathered their belongings to slowly file out of the room, John Edwards rose from the defense table with an incredulous look on his face and said to one of his attorneys, “That’s their case?!” The smirking reaction to the prosecution’s nearly three-week-long presentation was overheard by at least two reporters standing in the row behind the defendant.
Wednesday’s most powerful witness at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C. was from the Obama White House, a reminder that national politics is at the core of this trial and that the political money game is played at the highest level. Dressed in a stylish emerald-green sleeveless dress, the witness settled into the witness box and informed the jury that she was Jennifer Palmieri, deputy communications director for President Barack Obama. She then explained that she had served as Senator John Edwards’s press secretary beginning in 2004 and was a very dear friend to the late Elizabeth Edwards.
Palmieri testified that in August 2007, after the National Enquirer began to report that Edwards was having an affair with a staffer, she confronted her boss. “I said to him at some point, ‘Don’t think that if this is true that you can survive it.’” But the politician continued to deny the story. A few months later, when the senator’s staff caught wind that the Enquirer was set to print an even more damaging story—this time revealing a photo of a very pregnant Hunter and reporting that she had moved to Chapel Hill to be near her lover, John Edwards—Palmieri said she was floored.
On the stand Tuesday, the former senator’s speechwriter detailed the public statement about his affair she helped him craft—and why even then he wanted to keep lying. By Diane Dimond
Wendy Button was a highly regarded political speech writer in 2003 when then-Senator John Edwards came knocking on her door.
The Bennington-educated Button had already worked as a speechwriter for the mayor of Boston and was currently on the staff of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. But the prospect of working for a presidential candidate—especially someone who shared her core values—intrigued Button. She was offered the job of chief speechwriter for Edwards, and became the first woman in the Democratic Party to hold that job. She was just 34 years old.
When Button took the stand at Edwards's campaign-finance corruption trial on Tuesday, one was immediately struck by her tiny size and quiet voice. Dressed in a simple black skirt, beige cardigan, and small wire-rimmed eyeglasses, she climbed into the witness box and began to talk about the man she calls, simply, John.
She recited her history with Edwards, which included writing his two concession speeches after the 2004 and 2008 presidential primaries. But Button’s most riveting testimony came as she explained the very last thing she ever wrote for the senator. The time period in question began in July 2009. This was after Edwards’s second failed attempt at running for president, after the National Enquirer had thoroughly revealed his illicit affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, and more than a year after the American public had heard Edwards lie to ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff. When all the facts were known, Edwards’s statements to ABC about not being the father of Hunter’s baby and not knowing anything about the money his billionaire supporter Fred Baron had paid out to hide his secret were highly suspect. And in the summer of 2009, the media was already crackling over the highly anticipated tell-all book, The Politician, soon to be released by former Edwards aide Andrew Young.
Edwards arrives at the courthouse in Greensboro, N.C. May 8. (Chuck Burton / AP)
When Button heard about the book’s pending release she took it upon herself to email her former employer and send him a draft statement he might consider releasing to finally come clean.
Kicking off what may be the prosecution's final week, a local builder described spiriting away John Edwards's pregnant mistress to a private jetport at 4 a.m. Diane Dimond reports.
It was some of the most damaging testimony to date in the campaign-finance corruption trial of former Senator John Edwards. The day began with the jury hearing jaw-dropping testimony about Edwards's most prolific contributor, 101-year-old Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, and ended with another former supporter declaring that the more he learned about the senator's scandal, the more he was openly "rooting against Mr. Edwards."
The day's first witness, attorney Alexander Darrow Forger, had to admit that when you added up all of his billionaire client's donations to John Edwards and Edwards's nonprofit groups, the total was over $7 million— $7,109,600 to be precise. The money was given by Bunny Mellon between January 2006 and December 2007.
The elderly Forger, who explained he has been practicing white-glove law in New York for more than 60 years, is a statuesque and distinguished man with a commanding baritone and decidedly upper-class diction. He insisted to the jury that the widow of billionaire Paul Mellon did not donate all that money solely to ensure Edwards was elected president. Rather, he said, she gave it because "she took a liking to Senator Edwards." They shared an interest in similar issues like combating poverty, and she had a "loyalty to friends."
Said prosecutor Robert Higdon, referring to the sum that went to two outside campaign entities set up to promote his campaign for president, "Did you know her to ever give $6.3 million to another friend?"
"No," Forger answered, "but she's given substantial amounts to others. This is not the first time."
At the morning break a smiling John Edwards turned away from the defense table and whispered to his daughter Cate, sitting behind him, "It's a good morning for the home team."
John Edwards leaving the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)
On Thursday ex-staffers continued to pile on the damaging anecdotes, from more trysts with Rielle Hunter to a secret phone call asking whether his mistress was "showing." Diane Dimond reports.
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.
John Edwards arrives outside federal court in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)
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?”
Not only did the candidate's wife know about his affair, she suffered a harrowing public meltdown, ex-staffers testified Wednesday. Diane Dimond on how it could hurt Edwards's case.
Elizabeth Edwards stood on the tarmac of a private jetport at the Raleigh-Durham airport on October 11, 2007. She and her husband, presidential hopeful John Edwards, had arrived in separate cars with their separate staffers. He was bound for an event in South Carolina. She was on her way to a campaign event in Iowa.
But according to eyewitness Christina Reynolds, Elizabeth was "very upset, she was very vocal." She screamed at her husband, collapsed momentarily, then stormed at John and yelled something to the effect of, "You don't see me anymore!!" And, said Reynolds, in a stunning move, Elizabeth Edwards then "took off her shirt and her bra" in a humiliating effort to command attention from the husband she feared was cheating on her—again. Reynolds, a close personal friend of the late Mrs. Edwards, says she and another female employee watching the drama unfold rushed forward to cover Elizabeth. Then they took her home.
During this eighth day of testimony in the John Edwards campaign-corruption trial, the jury seemed stunned by this horrifying story. At the defense table, Edwards covered his flushed face with his hands. His daughter Cate had rushed from the courtroom when she knew this story was about to be told, as her father called after her, "Cate ... Cate ... Cate."
Diane Dimond on the dramatic day in court that left Cate Edwards in tears.
It was one of those moments in a courtroom when no one wants to look at anyone else. The judge called for a 15-minute break and Edwards barreled toward the door, ignoring his elderly parents sitting in their regular front-row seats. Ten minutes later Edwards returned to the courtroom, still visibly upset and said in a stage whisper (perhaps designed to be heard by reporters just two rows back): “That was so wrong! That was so wrong! This is supposed to be a campaign-finance case!” Then he plopped down in his chair at the defense table, still piqued that his former senior communications adviser, Christina Reynolds, had been allowed to tell the humiliating story in open court.
Reynolds also revealed that even before the National Enquirer first reported on the affair in October 2007, Elizabeth had called her into her bedroom one day “and told me that Mr. Edwards had had an affair in late 2006 but that he said it was over. [Now] she believed it might still be going on because she found a cellphone that wasn’t his.”
Says sleeping pills affected her husband’s judgment.
The wife of a former aide of John Edwards—considered one of the star witnesses at the former presidential candidate’s trial—testified on Tuesday that her husband’s judgment was impaired by a sleeping disorder, insisting that it affected his memory. Cheri Young’s husband, Andrew, had initially claimed paternity of Edwards’s daughter with Rielle Hunter, and Cheri Young said she had allowed herself to “swallow” her husband’s claim because electing Edwards was “Andrew’s dream.” Cheri Young insisted she does not have a desire to “take down” her husband’s former employer, but the couple faces claims by the defense that they used a majority of the $1.2 million given to Edwards that he allegedly used to cover up the affair with Hunter.
She may be petite, but at the John Edwards trial on Tuesday, Cheri Young, wife of ex-staffer Andrew Young, battled the politician’s attorneys like a heavyweight champ. By Diane Dimond
Don’t ever think you might be able to sneak something by Cheri Young.
After watching her answer questions for three days at the campaign-finance corruption trial of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, court watchers are calling her “spunky,” “feisty,” and “a steel magnolia.” Under cross-examination by the Edwards defense team, this 38-year-old wife and mother of three proved that while she may weigh in at just a hundred pounds or so, she is a heavyweight when it comes to testifying about the so-called Pregnant Mistress Cover-Up.
Diane Dimond on the dramatic day in court.
You might call Cheri Young the second key witness in the case against the former politician, after her husband, Andrew, who for years was an indispensable aide to John Edwards, so loyal that he claimed paternity of the baby Edwards created with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, so Edwards’s campaign for president wouldn’t be marred by scandal. In the end, it didn’t quite turn out that way.
While Cheri Young has been impressively attentive to detail on the stand as she politely spars with defense attorney Alan Duncan, there have been some cringe-worthy moments for federal prosecutors. The first came early when Duncan pulled out notes from an FBI agent, written during a meeting with Mrs. Young just two weeks ago. He zeroed in on the section where she described the time period when she and Andrew took on the task of hiding the pregnant Hunter from the media.
“Did you say Mr. Young was ‘drinking a lot’ in 2006 and 7?"
The wife of John Edwards's ex-staffer Andrew Young held the courtroom rapt on Monday with stories of Rielle Hunter's bizarre behavior and endless demands. Diane Dimond reports.
It was arguably the most compelling day of testimony so far. Thirty-eight-year-old Cheri Young, wife of Andrew Young, the onetime top aide to Senator John Edwards, held the courtroom spellbound as she gave a running narrative of how her family's life was turned upside down once a pregnant Rielle Hunter entered the picture.
Cheri Young being escorted out of the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday (Shawn Rocco / Landov)
But most important for the prosecution's case, Cheri Young placed presidential candidate Edwards smack in the middle of the so-called Bunny Money, the $725,000 donated by the wealthy philanthropist Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, which began to flow in June 2007.
When Cheri Young was questioned whether it was legal for her to deposit the Mellon checks by endorsing them with her maiden name, she testified, "I heard Mr. John Edwards tell me on the phone he had talked to his campaign lawyers ... This was not a campaign donation. He said, 'Get the money in!' [to the bank] He was very short and very angry."
Prosecutor Robert Higdon asked how she reacted to that command from her husband’s boss. After a long pause she said, "My husband and I had given everything to make this man president. If I didn't do this, the campaign was going down."
"So you took the checks to the bank?"
Ex-aide’s wife breaks down on stand.
Cheri Young, the wife of former John Edwards aide Andrew Young, broke down on the witness stand Monday afternoon as she described the personal turmoil she went through as she and her husband kept Edwards’s affair with Rielle Hunter secret. Young said on the stand that Edwards had told her himself that funds were not being used illegally, and suggested her husband take responsibility for Hunter’s baby instead of Edwards himself. “’Nobody cares about two staffers having an affair,’” Young said Edwards told her. The judge dismissed the jury when Young broke down in tears after being asked why she went along with Edwards’s plan to lie about the paternity of the baby.
Testifies that candidate said payments were legal.
Cheri Young, the wife of Andrew Young, John Edwards’s former aide, testified Monday that the former presidential candidate told them it was legal to take funds to pay off Rielle Hunter, Edwards’s mistress. Both Youngs are considered crucial witnesses in the case to prove that Edwards used $1.2 million in donations to hide his mistress, then pregnant with their child, as he contended for the presidency in 2008. Andrew Young testified last week under an immunity agreement, and admitted that he kept about $1 million of the $1.2 million, which Edwards’s defense team has claimed went to building the Young family’s dream house.
After five days of grueling testimony, ex-staffer Andrew Young, until now quiet and compliant, struck back on Friday during cross examination. Diane Dimond reports from the courtroom.
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.
As one-time 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, Cate, his elderly parents, and assorted assistants – Andrew Young, in contrast, arrives alone. (Sara D. Davis / Getty Images)
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.”
Andrew Young testifies in John Edwards trial.
Andrew Young offered scathing testimony Wednesday against his former boss John Edwards and orders keep his mistress hidden. Saying it was described as “the most important job on the campaign,” Young explained that he and his wife were told to keep Rielle Hunter from the press and details about how they traveled the U.S. with her and paid for everything with checks marked as payments for furniture. Young said that they kept her hidden even after Edwards left the race, because he wanted a shot at the vice presidency. Young was instructed to keep her hidden “until the Democratic National Convention.”
From secret cellphone conversations to spiriting his mistress away on a jet, the allegations against John Edwards on Tuesday were relentless. Diane Dimond reports from the courtroom.
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.
John Edwards, center, arrives at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., with his daughter Cate, April 24, 2012 (Nell Redmond / UPI-Landov)
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.”
In the opening salvo of John Edwards’s much-anticipated trial, his attorney tries to pin the blame on the candidate’s former staffer, Andrew Young. Diane Dimond reports from the courthouse.
Two-time presidential candidate John Edwards’s defense can be summed up in one sentence: It’s all Andrew Young’s fault. It was former staffer Young who secretly coaxed nearly a million dollars out of two loyal political supporters without the former senator’s knowledge, Edwards’s attorneys claim. And it was Young—now the government’s star witness against Edwards—who the defense alleges kept the money for himself and then sold out his employer by writing a tell-all book which, by the way, might become a major motion picture.
John Edwards arrives at federal court in Greensboro, N.C., April 23, 2012 (Gerry Broome / AP Photos)
In a blistering, rapid fire, 43-minute opening statement, Edwards’s attorney began dramatically by saying, “John Edwards is a man who has committed many sins--but no crimes.” The wealthy Edwards had brought in high-powered Washington attorney Abbe Lowell to join his defense team, but it was a less well-known local woman, Allison Van Laningham, who delivered the crucial opening address to the jury as the government’s case against Edwards got underway Monday. Reviews on her performance were mixed.
Van Laningham arrived at the podium and inexplicably placed a jumbo white tablet on an easel that immediately blocked the jury’s view of her client. It also blocked the view of Edwards’s elderly parents and his older daughter, Cate, who were sitting in the front row directly behind the defense table. On the paper Van Laningham wrote in big block letters at the top, “FOLLOW THE MONEY,” and explained this was the northernmost point on the compass her team would provide to help guide the jury through the case. “Follow the money,” and it would lead directly to the bank account of Andrew Young, she alleged. “That money wound up in the pockets of Andrew and [wife] Cheri Young … [for] their $1.5 million Chapel Hill home they were building.”
On the southern point of her invisible compass, Van Laningham wrote “HUMILIATION” and turned to the nine men and seven women in the jury box and declared, “This is what motivated John Edwards. He did not want to be humiliated. He did not want his wife to be humiliated either.” Edwards did not act out of a need to try to save a political campaign, she explained, he simply acted to hide his pregnant mistress for fear of losing his wife and his good standing as a North Carolina golden boy.
The western side of the enormous tablet was labeled, “PRIVATE OR POLITICAL” and it played nicely with the message on the eastern side: “NO CRIMINAL INTENT.” Van Laningham repeatedly referred to the money used to hide Edwards’s mistress Rielle Hunter as “private money, not political.” It was simply people helping a pregnant woman afford medical care, shelter, and baby furniture, the attorney said.
As prosecution says Edwards chose "to break the law."
Following the opening statements of John Edwards’s trial, in which the prosecution said Edwards "made a choice to break the law," a former aide of the two-time Democratic presidential candidate delivered crucial testimony that prosecutors hope will work in their favor. Andrew Young, who falsely claimed paternity of Edwards’s child with his mistress during his 2007 presidential campaign, spoke for nearly two hours on Monday about the cover-up. Edwards is accused of spending nearly a million dollars of federal-campaign money to hide the pregnancy. Edwards, 58, has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts, with his lawyers insisting that the bribe money came from friends, not his campaign.
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.
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