Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards goes on trial Monday, charged with accepting money federal authorities contend were campaign donations to cover up his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter and the fact that he fathered her daughter.
One key issue to be settled at trial is whether the money that came via two wealthy Edwards friends, which was used to support Hunter and her daughter and keep the affair secret, really constituted a campaign donation.
But first there’s another issue to settle: whether Edwards knew about the money being funneled to Hunter at all.
Edwards’ defense team has mostly focused their efforts on arguing that prosecuting the former North Carolina senator for accepting money that wasn’t directly used on typical campaign expenses would be unprecedented. But they also commented briefly on the government’s contention that Edwards knew about the payments to Hunter, writing that the government “assumes that Mr. Edwards knew about the monies; the evidence will prove otherwise.”
Government witness and former Edwards aide Andrew Young will likely have a lot to say on that topic. The indictment charged that Edwards and Young “discussed identifying individuals who could provide money to support” Hunter in or around May 2007.
Around that same time, Young read a note that then-96-year-old Edwards donor Bunny Mellon had sent to Young in April 2007, upset over a report on Edwards’ infamous $400 hair cut. The government alleged that Edwards and Young solicited money from Mellon and that Mellon subsequently wrote personal checks to a friend who forwarded them to Young. Young’s wife endorsed the checks with her maiden name and allegedly deposited them in bank accounts controlled by her and her husband.
The government also charges that in July and August of 2009, while working with a former employee of his campaign on a statement explaining that he was the father of Hunter’s child, Edwards allegedly said that he was aware of the payments but that for “legal and practical reasons” the payments should not be mentioned in the statement. He never issued the statement they prepared.
One of the defense’s strategies will be attacking the character of Young, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. People in Young’s position, the defense team wanted to tell jurors, “may have had reason to make up stories or exaggerate what others did because they wanted to help themselves. “