Former Edwards aide takes stand

Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 01:00

A former campaign aide testified today that he worried about secretly using money from wealthy donors to support former US Senator John Edwards' pregnant mistress during the candidate's 2008 presidential bid.

"It just all seemed crazy," Andrew Young said during his second day of testimony. "It felt and smelled wrong."

Mr Young is the federal government's key witness in the criminal campaign finance case against Mr Edwards, who failed to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. The former aide was granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony.

Mr Edwards, a two-time presidential hopeful who was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, saw his star fall amid revelations that he cheated on his cancer-stricken wife and impregnated his mistress during the 2008 campaign.

Prosecutors say Edwards (58) manipulated Mr Young into soliciting more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors to hide the affair and pregnancy, and avoid destroying his campaign.

They say Mr Young was so dedicated to Mr Edwards that he agreed to falsely claim paternity of mistress Rielle Hunter's baby at Mr Edwards' request.

Mr Edwards faces possible prison time if convicted of federal election law violations, including charges of conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.

Mr Young told jurors how he coordinated three-way phone calls between himself, Mr Edwards and Ms Hunter to keep the affair secret from Mr Edwards' wife, Elizabeth. Ms Hunter also met up with John Edwards at hotels on the campaign trail, Mr Young said.

Ms Hunter for a time worked as a videographer for Edwards' campaign, but she lost her job after Mr Edwards' wife found out about the affair.

Mr Young said he and Mr Edwards tried to figure out where they could get money to support her and eventually settled on heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an Edwards admirer who is now 101.

Ms Mellon had offered to help Mr Edwards with campaign expenses after he took a beating in the press for his expensive haircuts.

Mr Young said he did not tell her the money would be used to cover expenses for Mr Edwards' mistress, who had threatened to go public about their relationship.

"I told (Mellon) that we had a non-campaign expense that would benefit Mr Edwards, and we needed her help," Mr Young said.

Ms Mellon eventually wrote seven checques totaling $725,000 to her interior decorator. The decorator then sent the checks to Mr Young's wife to co-sign using her maiden name, Mr Young said.

Mr Edwards says he did not know about the money from Ms Mellon, but Mr Young said the two men discussed seeking the payments and whether the arrangement using the decorator and Mr Young's wife was legitimate for a presidential campaign.

"He said it was completely legal, that it was a non-campaign expense," Mr Young said.

Mr Young has not yet discussed how other payments from campaign finance chairman Fred Baron came about.

Mr Edwards' defense is expected to go after Mr Young's credibility during cross-examination.

During opening statements yesterday, the defense said Mr Young pocketed most of the donor money and used it to help bankroll a $1.5 million home for his family.

Mr Young thought Mr Edwards was his "ticket to the top," the defense said. When things soured, he recruited others to testify against Mr Edwards in the criminal prosecution, according to the defense.

Mr Young has admitted that parts of his 2010 book about Mr Edwards and efforts to cover up the affair, "The Politician," are untruthful.