GREENSBORO, N.C. — After listening to testimony of her father's extramarital affair for eight days, John Edwards' daughter reached her breaking point Wednesday when discussion turned to how her late mother handled the infidelity.
Cate Edwards left the courtroom in tears for a brief time Wednesday afternoon as a prosecution witness started to recount how Elizabeth Edwards shared her fears in the summer of 2007 that her husband was still engaged in an affair with a campaign staffer months after saying he had ended the fling.
Christina Reynolds, who was research director and senior communications adviser for John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign, was one of several former campaign staffers to testify Wednesday.
Edwards is charged with conspiracy, filing false campaign reports and four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions in connection with the nearly $1 million that two donors secretly paid in 2007-08 to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he ran for the White House.
Edwards turned to his daughter when discussion of Elizabeth Edwards began and asked her if she wanted to leave. He then bowed his head in his hand after she left.
Reynolds and Matthew Nelson, who served as the "body man" to Edwards, handling daily details as the candidate crisscrossed the country, both testified about an incident at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in December 2007, the day after the National Enquirer published a story about Edwards' affair.
Nelson said Elizabeth Edwards was clawing at her husband's face on the drive to the airport, and John Edwards kept asking her to stop.
"Is this what you do in the car together in New York?" Nelson said Elizabeth Edwards asked.
By the time they arrived at RDU's general aviation terminal to catch a private flight to Iowa, Elizabeth Edwards was screaming at her husband, the witnesses said.
"She stormed off and sort of collapsed in a ball in the parking lot," Reynolds said.
Staffers eventually calmed her down, and Nelson drove her home. She didn't make the campaign trip.
The campaign was on edge because of the Enquirer story and the fact that Hunter wanted to issue a flippant statement about alien abductions to deny it, Reynolds said.
Earlier Wednesday, Josh Brumberger, another body man for Edwards, told jurors that he was concerned about his boss' relationship with Hunter from early on.
Brumberger recounted the first time Edwards met Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, whose money would later be spent on Hunter, as well as his first meeting with Hunter herself.
He said Edwards went to Mellon's 4,000-acre estate in northern Virginia in December 2005, eliciting laughter from the jury when he noted it was “probably the first and only time in my life I will be taking off in a plane from someone’s front lawn.”
The mood in the courtroom during Brumberger's testimony was in stark contrast to the tension during the first eight days of the trial, as former Edwards aide Andrew Young and his wife, Cheri Young, testified.
Andrew Young was the government's star witness as prosecutors try to show that Edwards orchestrated the flow of donor money to Hunter to keep her happy and quiet and away from the media during the early stages of the 2008 campaign. Cheri Young helped bolster her husband's story by testifying that Edwards assured them that the secret payments were legal and even ordered them to "get the money in."
The defense has suggested that Andrew Young schemed to get money from Mellon – checks were sent through an interior decorator to Cheri Young and deposited into the family's bank account – to build a $1.5 million home in Chapel Hill and finance a lavish lifestyle.
Defense attorney Alan Duncan closed his cross-examination of Cheri Young on Wednesday morning by noting that she agreed to receive the checks, agreed to her husband claiming to be the father of Hunter's baby and agreed to travel across the country with her family and Hunter to avoid reporters.
"What kept you doing these things was the money, wasn't it?" Duncan asked her.
"No, sir," she replied.
Brumberger said Edwards' initial meeting with Mellon went well and that she was a big fan of the candidate, whom she likened to John F. Kennedy.
In August 2006, Brumberger sent an email to another campaign staffer after Edwards called Mellon on her birthday and talked with her about the campaign.
"JRE called. Bunny is still in LOVE,” the email read.
When asked by prosecutors what he meant by the email, Brumberger drew more laughter by stating, "I believe what I meant by that is Mrs. Mellon was still supportive of Mr. Edwards' causes."
Edwards, who glared at Andrew and Cheri Young throughout their testimony, even laughed at that comment.
Brumberger said he tried to keep Hunter away from Edwards when they first met at a bar in a New York hotel, and he said he was surprised to learn a few months later that she had been hired to produce behind-the-scenes videos of the campaign.
He said he became concerned after checking Hunter's website.
"There’s a lot of sex, drugs, rock and roll and astrology,” he said. "(It's) not necessarily the content but just how public she was with the content.”
When he expressed his concerns to Edwards, he said, Edwards said "Hunter looked a little nutty."
Hunter and Brumberger frequently clashed over how much access she had within the campaign, and he said Edwards would sometimes have to settle the disagreements after she complained.
"I had never seen Mr. Edwards so involved with staff minutia. That he actually cared about what she wanted to do was new to me," he testified.
Later, after Brumberger spotted Hunter coming out of Edwards' hotel, he said, he got into a heated exchange with his boss.
"If you thought I was (having an affair with) her, why didn’t you come to me like a man?” he recalled Edwards telling him.
He said that he had cautioned Edwards several times before but apparently should have been more “forceful.” He left the campaign shortly after that.
Brumberger said Edwards never admitted nor denied the affair to him.