Local Politics

Ex-aide says he feared Edwards would have him killed

Posted April 27, 2012 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2012 7:25 p.m. EDT

— In their last meeting before Andrew Young took the witness stand this week to testify against his former boss, John Edwards, Young feared for his life as the two men exchanged heated words on a deserted Orange County road, he said Friday.

Young, a former aide to the two-time presidential candidate, was testifying for a fifth day in Edwards' criminal trial. Edwards is charged with conspiracy, filing false campaign reports and four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions in connection with the nearly $1 million two donors secretly paid in 2007-08 to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he ran for the White House.

Young initially claimed paternity of Hunter's daughter to shield Edwards' campaign from media speculation about an affair and any negative publicity during the early primaries and causes in the 2008 campaign.

He says Edwards repeatedly promised to take care of Young and his family for covering up the affair, but he became more skeptical that Edwards would follow through with a job and other compensation as contact between them became more infrequent after Edwards dropped out of the race in January 2008 and Hunter's baby was born a month later.

During an August 2008 meeting, Edwards led Young out into the country near their Chapel Hill homes before pulling off to the side of a rural road, Young said.

"At one point, I was scared for my life," he testified.

"You thought Mr. Edwards was going to physically harm you?" defense attorney Abbe Lowell asked.

"Not Mr. Edwards personally," Young replied.

Lowell asked whether Young thought Edwards was leading him into an ambush.

"That did cross my mind, yes sir," Young said. "I was up against two billionaires and a multimillionaire former presidential candidate. I was scared."

Days before the meeting, Edwards gave a national television interview in which he admitted to the affair but denied being the baby's father. Young said he wanted Edwards to publicly admit that he, not Young, fathered Hunter's child.

"He put my family through heck," Young testified, flashing some emotion after four days of answering questions in a fairly flat tone.

"We did everything we could that he asked us to do, but he walked away from us," he said of Edwards.

Young said he had evidence to use against Edwards, if needed, and Lowell questioned him whether he was trying to blackmail the former U.S. senator at that point.

"My message was I was angry and he hadn't lived up to what he promised to do," Young replied. "I was going to tell the truth."

"The truth as you call it," Lowell said.

"As I call it? It is the truth, sir," Young said.

The lawyer danced around references to a videotape purported to show Edwards and Hunter having sex that Young possessed at the time. Prosecutors objected when Lowell tried to ask Young about it, and U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles told Lowell not to mention the tape.

As he has done since he began cross-examining Young on Wednesday, Lowell pointed out inconsistencies between Young's courtroom testimony and passages in his 2010 tell-all book, "The Politician," interviews and speeches he gave and his testimony before a federal grand jury three years ago.

He noted that Young received several checks from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a Virginia heiress and Edwards supporter, days after calling her and that the money helped fund a lavish lifestyle for Young and his family.

Young admitted Thursday that Mellon's money went into the same bank account as the family's other income and that spending on construction of a home in Chapel Hill got out of control during that period.

On Friday, Lowell questioned Young about an accounting of expenses tied to Hunter that he put together for a civil suit she filed against him and his wife over possession of the sex tape and personal photos. In a column titled "Expenses due to the affair," he included the cost of a $3,700 Disney cruise for his family and a 2008 trip he and his wife took to Mexico.

Young said both trips were taken to relieve stress after he left the Edwards campaign and was forced to live with Hunter, whom he has described as demanding and moody.

Lowell also reviewed copies of Young's 2007 and 2008 income tax returns, which Young said he had amended to account for any gift taxes associated with money he had provided Hunter.

Young acknowledged that he had received more than $700,000 from Mellon during that period and that Fred Baron, a Texas trial lawyer who was Edwards' campaign finance chairman, paid $335,000 toward the construction of the Young's new home and thousands more on private jets and luxury hotels as Young and Hunter hid from the media during the campaign.

Yet, the tax returns list only $135,361 as gifts to Hunter in 2007 and $56,389 the following year.

The defense maintains that Young schemed to get money from Mellon – the bulk of the money Edwards is charged with concealing – to support his extravagant spending and that Edwards knew nothing about it. The rest of the money, the defense says, was a gift from Baron to help hide the affair from Edwards' wife and wasn't a political contribution.

Lowell also questioned Young about his contact with three defense witnesses before the trial. On Monday, the defense revealed that Young had a sexual encounter with one of the witnesses in 2007.

Young said he asked the woman about "a personal matter." When asked whether he said she would "mess everything up" by testifying, he said he couldn't recall, but under additional questioning by prosecutors, he said that, if he used those terms, he wasn't referring to the Edwards case.

Young briefly broke down on the witness stand when talking about the sacrifices his wife has made through the years while he worked for Edwards. A short time later, prosecutors called Cheri Young as their second witness. She began detailing how her husband did everything for the Edwards family to the detriment of his own family and is expected to continue testifying Monday.