By Michael Biesecker
GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards’ former aide acknowledged Thursday that much of nearly $1 million in campaign supporters’ cash went to build his North Carolina dream house, not to buy the silence of the presidential candidate’s pregnant mistress.
Andrew Young testified for a fourth straight day at Edwards’ campaign finance fraud trial, peppered with questions from Edwards attorney Abbe Lowell about the money from two donors that flowed into personal accounts controlled by Young and his wife.
Young said he took secret payments from wealthy donors at Edwards’ direction to help conceal the presidential contender’s affair with Rielle Hunter and keep his 2008 presidential campaign viable.
Young said the checks, secretly provided by a then-96-year-old heiress, were mixed with the couple’s other house funds, much of which went into renovations and construction of their $1.5 million hilltop house on 10 acres near Chapel Hill, N.C. Young suggested his wife, Cheri, would know more about where all the money went, saying she “is the one who handles the finances in our family.”
Young’s testimony is considered key to the prosecution’s case that while campaigning for the White House, Edwards directed a scheme to use the money from the heiress and a Texas lawyer to conceal his affair with Hunter.
Young initially claimed he was the father of Hunter’s daughter and took her into his home with his wife.
Lowell asked Young about numerous changes to the construction of the North Carolina house after the secret payments started coming in, including a pool, home theater and an extra bedroom.
At the time, Young and his wife were living with Hunter in a $20,000-a-month rental mansion along the California coast, paid for by a wealthy lawyer who served as Edwards’ campaign finance chairman.
“We were living out in Santa Barbara and we lost our sense of perspective,” Young said on the witness stand. “The house became more and more extravagant.”
Edwards denies knowing about the $725,000 in checks from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon sent to Young through her interior designer.
In addition to providing the maximum $2,300 to the Edwards campaign allowed by law, Mellon also provided another $6.4 million to a political action committee and anti-poverty foundation tied to Edwards.
Another $200,000 was given to the Youngs and Hunter by the Texas lawyer, Fred Baron. Records shown at trial documented payments for private jets, five-star hotels and other expenses incurred by Hunter and the Youngs while they were in hiding.
Baron died in 2008 of cancer. He was 61 years old.
Young testified Thursday he had sent Baron an invoice for many of the expenses the aide had already paid for with money from Mellon. He admitted Baron then wired another $325,000 to the builder constructing the Young’s house.
The questions about the cash from Mellon funneled to Young’s house came towards the end of a full day of cross-examination, in which Lowell sought to undermine the ex-aide’s credibility and paint him as a pathological liar.
Lowell pointed out inconsistencies with Young’s account of the scandal at trial this week and in multiple other accounts, including grand jury testimony and his 2010 tell-all book about Edwards.
Referring to the timing of a conversation with a law partner of Edwards, Lowell asked, “And you made that up too, didn’t you?”
“No, sir,” Young responded.
Lowell asked Young whether he first learned Hunter, was pregnant in May 2007, as his book says: in June 2007, as he testified; or in early July, a date backed by phone records and Hunter’s medical records.
The timeline issues could challenge the accounts of conversations Young said he had with Edwards in a car discussing who to ask for money to help take care of Hunter and discussing Hunter’s pregnancy.
Young said he couldn’t recall the exact date for either event, one of many times on Thursday he admitted he couldn’t remember the timing or sequence of events to which he had testified.
Lowell asked Young to recount his story of how Edwards had asked him to claim paternity of Hunter’s child on December 13, 2007. Young had said the phone conversation occurred while he was sitting in his car and had looked over to the passenger seat to see a copy of Newsweek magazine with Edwards on the front.
The defense then flashed a photo of that magazine cover up on the screens visible to the jury. It was dated two weeks later.
Seated at the defense table, Edwards appeared more upbeat than in past days, frequently smiling and whispering with his attorneys as Young testified.
Lowell also challenged Young on which amount of money Mellon said she would provide over time to help make Edwards president — $1.2 million, as he testified this week, or $900,000 and $925,000, figures he had previously given.
Young said the number he provided this week is the correct one.
Later in the day, Lowell asked Young whether $1.2 million was also the exact amount of the original construction contract for his house. Young replied that it was just a coincidence, and that $1.2 million was also the price for which they had sold their previous lakefront home in Raleigh, netting a $400,000 profit.
Lowell’s cross examination of Young will continue Friday.