GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards’ first reaction when he learned his mistress may be pregnant was to downplay the chances he was the father, calling the woman a “crazy slut,” his former close campaign aide testified Tuesday.
Later, when the former presidential candidate came to realize he was the father in the midst of his campaign, he asked that aide, Andrew Young, to claim paternity and hatched a plan to funnel money from rich friends to provide the woman a monthly allowance, even though Young said he doubted it was legal.
Young took the witness stand for a second day at Edwards’ criminal trial. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations involving nearly $1 million in secret payments provided by two wealthy donors as he sought the White House in 2008.
Young said Rielle Hunter in spring 2007 told Edwards she was pregnant. Edwards then called Young and told him to “take care of it.”
“He said she was a crazy slut and there was a 1-in-3 chance that it (the child) was his,” Young testified.
Edwards directed him to start giving money to Hunter in May 2007, after she threatened to go to the media and expose the affair, Young said. Edwards suggested asking elderly heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who had already given generously to the campaign.
Prosecutors showed the jury a series of cancelled checks from Mellon written to her interior designer, who would then endorse them and send them to Andrew and his wife, Cheri. Starting in June 2007, Mellon would eventually provide checks totaling $750,000.
Without telling Mellon what the money would be used for beyond that it was a “non-campaign” expense, Young said she offered to provide $1.2 million over time to help pay for the candidate’s personal needs. Under federal law, donors are limited to giving a maximum of $2,300 per election cycle.
“We were scared,” Young said. “It was a truckload of money, more money than had ever flowed through our accounts. … It was crazy.”
Young said he expressed concern to Edwards, a former trial lawyer, that they might be violating federal campaign finance laws.
“He told me he had talked to several campaign finance experts and that it was legal,” Young testified. “It felt and smelled wrong. But he knew more about the law than we did. We believed him.”
In later testimony Tuesday, Young said in December 2007, Edwards had the idea of the aide claiming paternity. It came after reporters from a tabloid tracked Hunter down in a North Carolina grocery store. By that time, non-tabloid media had also started to pick up the trail as the campaign was preparing for the primaries at the beginning of 2008.
Edwards said they needed to “give the press something they would understand, an affair between two staffers,” Young testified. Hunter had produced several videos documenting life on the campaign trail for Edwards.
Young said Edwards “talked about how this was bigger than all of us.”
The Youngs agreed to get the mistress out of North Carolina. They began a cross-country odyssey of travel on private jets and stays in luxury hotels. While they were on the run, the federal indictment alleges that more than $183,000 in bills related to Hunter’s care was paid by Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer who served as Edwards’ campaign finance director. Baron has since died.
Young testified that Edwards put him in touch with Baron’s people. When asked why he agreed to claim paternity, Young said power was the lure.
“I wanted my friend to be president,” Young said. “Being friends with the most powerful person on earth, there are benefits to that.”
Young said Edwards also directed him to use the money from Mellon to provide a monthly allowance to Hunter of between $5,000 and $12,000. The money would allow her to travel and continue to meet up with the married candidate while he was away from his home and now deceased wife, Elizabeth, who had grown suspicious of the affair.
Edwards has denied knowing about the money provided by Mellon. In opening statements on Monday, Edwards defense lawyer Alison Van Laningham said the Youngs siphoned off the bulk of the money to pay for the construction of their $1.5 million house near Chapel Hill.
The indictment filed by the U.S. Justice Department last year recounts more than $933,000 in unreported payments from the two campaign donors who had already given the maximum contributions allowed by law.
Edwards denies knowing about the money. Defense attorneys say even if he did, the payments don’t fit the legal definition of political contributions because they were not meant to influence the election. Instead, they say, the payments were gifts meant to hide Edwards’ affair from his wife, not voters.