By Colleen Jenkins
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The wife of the campaign aide who claimed paternity for former presidential candidate John Edwards' baby cried on the witness stand on Monday as she recalled why she let her husband say he was the father of someone else's child.
Cheri Young said Edwards, a former U.S. senator who was seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, explained that the arrangement was necessary both to keep his campaign alive and to prevent his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, from finding out about the affair.
After the candidate convinced his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and the aide, Andrew Young, to go along with the cover-up, Cheri Young said she felt she had no choice but to follow suit.
"I didn't want the responsibility of knowing that because I didn't go along with this, that because I didn't want to try it, that the campaign would explode and it would be my fault and I would have to live with it," Cheri Young testified.
Her testimony opened the second week of Edwards' federal campaign finance trial in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Prosecutors accuse Edwards, 58, of conspiring with Andrew Young to solicit more than $900,000 in illegal campaign contributions from two wealthy donors as part of a plan to conceal the candidate's pregnant mistress from the media and voters.
Edwards, a former trial attorney who became a two-time presidential candidate and the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, faces possible prison time if convicted of federal election law violations, including charges of conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.
Andrew Young, the government's lead witness, testified against his former boss for much of last week. On Monday, Young's wife reiterated details from his testimony, acknowledging that she used her maiden name to endorse checks totaling $725,000 from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and deposited them in the Youngs' personal bank accounts.
Cheri Young said she questioned the legality of the arrangement. Through her husband's job as a fundraiser, she knew there were limits in how much an individual donor could provide to a campaign, she said.
'GET THE MONEY IN'
She said Edwards told her during a phone call that his campaign advisers said the payments were legal, and he ordered her to "get the money in" to assist Hunter.
"We were at a peak point" in the campaign, Young said. "And if I didn't do this to take care of this woman, the campaign was going down."
Edwards' defense says the Youngs used much of the donor money to help build themselves a $1.5 million home in North Carolina. The defense argues that Edwards committed no crime because the payments were of a personal nature to keep Elizabeth Edwards from learning of the affair and not to influence the election.
Prosecutors on Monday showed jurors bank records for the $38,000 in checks the Youngs wrote to Hunter between June and December 2007.
"We gave her a monthly stipend, which was per Mr. Edwards' request," said Cheri Young, her voice often filled with fury and disgust as she described the events that took place years ago.
She said the Youngs also allowed Hunter to live with them in North Carolina after a tabloid alleged that Edwards was having an affair.
They bought her a $26,000 BMW and then paid her $2,700 monthly rent and other expenses once she moved into her own place, Young said.
The Youngs and their three children eventually spent months traveling with Hunter to luxury locations around the country to further shield her from the media, Cheri Young said. Young said she didn't have a choice in where they went or whether she could return home with her children as she wished to do.
While Edwards was still a candidate, "there really weren't any options," she said.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Vicki Allen)