By Michael Biesecker
GREENSBORO, N.C.— Andrew Young, testifying Wednesday at his longtime boss’ corruption trial, said John Edwards masterminded a scheme to use nearly $1 million from wealthy campaign donors to conceal his affair with Rielle Hunter from voters as he sought the White House.
Young testified that when Edwards asked him in December 2007 to claim paternity, the candidate pledged to set the record straight after the baby was born.
During the 2008 meeting in his car, Young told Edwards he had kept evidence of the cover-up, including voicemails, emails and an intimate tape made by the woman. He said he threatened to go public if Edwards’ didn’t come clean about the fact the baby was his.
The former one-term U.S. senator from North Carolina has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.
Edwards denies knowing about the secret money, much of which flowed into accounts controlled by Young and his wife. Prosecutors allege Edwards directed Young to start giving money to Hunter in 2007 after she threatened to go to the media and expose the affair. Edwards suggested asking elderly heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who had already given generously to the campaign, Young testified.
Prosecutors showed the jury 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 $725,000, funds that Young said Edwards and he called the “Bunny money.”
Telling Mellon the money would be used for a “non-campaign” expense, Young said she offered to provide $1.2 million over time to help. Under federal law, donors are limited to giving a maximum of $2,300 per election cycle.
Edwards’ political hopes dimmed that July in 2007 when tabloid reporters photographed him at a California hotel with his mistress and baby daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, who was then 5 months old. Despite the grainy photos, Young said Edwards moved ahead with a planned overnight visit to Mellon’s Virginia estate, where he was to ask the heiress to provide another $50 million to establish an anti-poverty foundation.
It would be another two years before Edwards acknowledged he had fathered the child.