Ex-Senator Edwards, mistress could testify on Wednesday

Reuters News
|
Posted: May 15, 2012 7:54 PM
Ex-Senator Edwards, mistress could testify on Wednesday

By Colleen Jenkins

GREENSBORO, NC (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator John Edwards and the woman with whom he had an affair during his 2008 presidential bid could be called by the defense to testify on Wednesday in his federal campaign finance trial, Edwards' attorney said.

Attorney Abbe Lowell said the defense was considering putting Rielle Hunter on the stand as it tries to refute charges that Edwards solicited illegal campaign contributions to help hide his then-pregnant mistress from voters.

Edwards, a two-time presidential hopeful and the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, and his eldest daughter Cate also might testify, Lowell said in court on Tuesday.

Those choices could set the stage for a potentially riveting day of testimony in Greensboro, North Carolina, the state where Edwards won millions as a trial lawyer before being elected to the Senate in 1998.

Jurors have listened to much about Hunter's role in the sex scandal that contributed to Edwards' political downfall but have not heard from her directly during 17 days of trial testimony. Other witnesses described her quirky personality, high tastes and their concerns about her behavior around Edwards as he chased the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Jurors have seen Edwards, 58, in the courtroom each day and also watched a national TV interview in which he admitted to having an affair with Hunter but falsely denied fathering her baby.

Talk of the possible upcoming witnesses capped hours of testimony on Tuesday that focused largely on who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from two wealthy Edwards supporters.

Prosecutors say Edwards directed his aide, Andrew Young, to seek more than $900,000 from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron as part of a plot to keep the married politician's affair from destroying his campaign.

Edwards insists he did not break the law. His attorneys argue he had nothing to do with the payments, which they say were meant as personal gifts intended to keep his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, from finding out about the ongoing affair and Hunter's pregnancy.

Some of the donor money was used to pay for Hunter's living and medical expenses, evidence has shown.

But a former FBI agent testifying for the defense presented a detailed financial analysis showing that Young - the key government witness against Edwards - and his wife received more than $1 million from Mellon and Baron.

FOCUS ON KEY ISSUES

Defense witnesses also spoke to key legal issues in the case, including what Edwards knew about the donor money and whether it qualifies as campaign contributions.

Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Scott Thomas testified that third-party payments used to cover personal expenses related to an affair had never come up as a matter of campaign finance law in his 37 years of experience in that field.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, however, blocked Thomas from telling jurors his opinion that the payments from Mellon and Baron were not campaign contributions.

An Edwards confidante recalled that the former senator looked surprised when Mellon told him in 2008 that she had funneled money to Young.

John Moylan, who worked on Edwards' 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, testified he believed his friend did not learn of Mellon's payments until a visit to her Virginia home in August 2008. By then, Edwards had dropped out of the latter race and confessed to an affair on TV.

"My impression was that we were both learning of that transaction for the first time," said Moylan, who had accompanied Edwards on the trip to Mellon's estate.

According to Moylan, Edwards told the now 101-year-old woman, "Bunny, you should not be sending money to anyone."

A prosecutor objected when Moylan said he still believes Young used Edwards' name to get $725,000 from Mellon. Eagles sustained the objection, meaning jurors are not to consider the statement as evidence.

As it has for much of the trial, the defense on Tuesday portrayed Young as a money-hungry liar. The aide, who was granted immunity in the case, may be re-called to the stand before the end of the defense case this week, Lowell said.

Elizabeth Nicholas, who worked with Young in Edwards' U.S. Senate office, said she found the aide to be dishonest.

"He was not known for being truthful, and he was also known for kind of misrepresenting things," she said.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Philip Barbara)