Local Politics

Ex-Edwards staffer recalls angry confrontation over affair

Posted May 9, 2012

— A former campaign staffer Wednesday recounted an angry confrontation between John Edwards' wife and a donor about his efforts to hide the two-time presidential candidate's mistress.

Jurors and even Edwards were visibly moved by Jennifer Palmieri, who wept as she remembered Elizabeth Edward's death in December 2010.

Palmieri will be among the government's final witnesses. Prosecutors said they plan to call a couple of FBI and IRS agents on Thursday before resting their case.

Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, won't be a witness for the prosecution, although the government provided her legal immunity for her testimony.

Edwards is charged with violating federal campaign finance laws by accepting contributions far above legal limits and not reporting them. Prosecutors allege he used nearly $1 million from Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron to keep Hunter quiet and his 2008 bid for the White House alive.

John Edwards case graphic WRAL.com archive: John Edwards case

When Elizabeth Edwards learned in October 2007 that Baron was paying Hunter's expenses, she became enraged and confronted him and Edwards at an Iowa hotel, said Palmieri, who was Edwards' communications director and a close friend of his wife.

Prosecutors suggested that John Edwards' presence during the confrontation show that he was aware of a scheme to hide his affair, but the defense maintains that Edwards sought outside funds for Hunter to spare his wife's emotions, not to influence the 2008 election.

Palmieri backed up the defense's position when she said that Elizabeth Edwards "just wanted to get out of the campaign."

"She didn't think John was going to get the nomination," she testified. "This was about protecting her and her family."

Elizabeth Edwards desperately wanted to believe that her husband wasn't the father of Hunter's daughter, Quinn, despite his previous lies to her, Palmieri said.

"She had a concern about being alone, that when she and John decided to separate, she was concerned that when she died, there would not be a man around who loved her," Palmieri said as she fought back tears.

Elizabeth Edwards died in December 2010 after a six-year battle with breast cancer.

Earlier Wednesday, another former staffer told jurors that Edwards consulted well-known actors and a Hollywood director before publicly acknowledging that he fathered Hunter's baby.

Jennifer Palmieri at federal courthouse Witness' emotion moves jurors, Edwards

Wendy Button, who was a speech writer for Edwards, described her work three years ago to draft a statement for Edwards. He finally issued it in January 2010.

Button said Elizabeth Edwards threatened to leave her husband if he issued the statement, so John Edwards struggled with the matter for months. He had acknowledged an affair with Hunter after ending his campaign in 2008, but he had repeatedly denied fathering her daughter, Quinn.

"You could hear it in his voice that he was struggling with this. It was painful to hear him talk about it," Button said.

As the draft statement went through more than a dozen revisions, Button testified, Edwards sent copies to actor Sean Penn and actress Madeleine Stowe and to Paul Haggis, who directed "Crash" and other films and wrote screenplays "Million Dollar Baby," "Casino Royale" and other movies. No reason was mentioned for circulating the draft.

Under cross-examination, Button admitted that she is writing a book about her work with Edwards and is trying to line up a movie deal based on the book.

Former Edwards aide Andrew Young also has written a book about the affair, "The Politician," and has sold the movie rights to it. Young initially claimed to be the father of Hunter's baby to squelch media speculation during the early 2008 primaries that Edwards was having an affair.

Button said that she had helped Young when he testified before a federal grand jury and when Hunter filed a lawsuit against him over property she claimed he took from her, including a videotape purported to show her having sex with Edwards.

β€œIt looked like he was being punished,” she said, noting he was outgunned by the size of the legal team on Hunter's and Edwards' side. "I felt like I needed to reach out to him to let him know how I felt bad for what was happening to him.”

The defense has tried to portray prosecution witnesses as people working together to bring Edwards down for their own financial benefit.

Testimony was delayed Wednesday morning as U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles examined the camera and a phone of a New York Post photographer. Two jurors in the case told Eagles they thought the photographer had taken their picture Tuesday during a lunch break.

Eagles didn't find any evidence that jurors had been photographed but she warned the media and other spectators to steer clear of the jurors while the trial was going on.

41 Comments

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  • trueblue0100 May 18, 2:57 p.m.

    As with Hilary, it was all about getting her husband into office......JAT

    Maybe you just haven't kept up with the facts. Clinton was already IN office when the Lewinski incident happened so your comparison is like apples to oranges.

  • davidgnews May 10, 7:01 p.m.

    "Edwards sent copies to actor Sean Penn and actress Madeleine Stowe ..."

    Oh no - he must have been looking for 'revenge.' LOL.

  • JAT May 10, 3:43 p.m.

    ConsVoter: There's no evidence that Rielle did any blackmailing at all. For all we know, it was Elizabeth who told John to try to get money to keep her quiet till the election was either over or he had some sort of job in Washington.

  • SueInNC May 10, 1:50 p.m.

    Why would Rielle need immunity? What crime did she commit (stupidity does not count).

  • ConservativeVoter May 10, 1:25 p.m.

    The amazing thing was that Elizabeth knew about the mistress and the baby while she was helping John campaign for President.

    Says a lot for her moral character.

  • proverbial May 10, 12:46 p.m.

    dryjr..."Elizabeth threatened to leave here husband if he issued the statement" That says a lot about her."

    IMO...it's one thing to be humiliated in front of your family...but the entire country?! Though it may have been about the white house, she could have simply been trying to save as much dignity as possible..

  • Argo May 10, 12:40 p.m.

    If he gets off, perhaps Edward can act as an expert consultant to Wake County Public Schools to help draft their cheating policy.

  • ConservativeVoter May 10, 11:57 a.m.

    As much as Rielle had been around, it's hard to believe that she accidentally got pregnant with John Edwards baby.

    She had the baby to guarantee that John would support her extravagant lifestyle going forward.

    Such a gold digger.

  • ConservativeVoter May 10, 11:56 a.m.

    "greg69 - Rielle didn't do anything wrong! Why should she be blamed for not "keeping quiet"? John was the one who had the most to lose both personal and political. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew cheating was wrong. But he thought he could keep it a secret. - JAT"

    Rielle did a couple of things wrong.

    1) sleeping with a married man

    2) essentially black mailing John into supporting her extravagant lifestyle. Baron and Mellon were making the payments for John.

  • JAT May 10, 11:18 a.m.

    hopefully, she didn't ask actors' opinions just to get their idea of what would sound better for the movie.....

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