Local Politics

Former staffer says Edwards knew about support for mistress, baby

Posted May 8, 2012 2:22 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2012 7:53 p.m. EDT

— John Edwards knew that a wealthy donor was paying bills for his mistress and illegitimate child but still lied about it when he finally acknowledged having an affair, a former campaign staffer testified Tuesday.

Wendy Button, who was a speech writer for Edwards, said she was dumbfounded that Edwards had her draft a statement in which he admitted to fathering a child with Rielle Hunter that she knew wasn't entirely true.

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.

Button said she worked with Edwards throughout the summer of 2009 to craft a public statement to finally acknowledge that Hunter's daughter, Quinn, was his. He had admitted to his affair with her in August 2008 but had repeatedly denied fathering the child.

Initial drafts included an apology to Baron and former aide Andrew Young, who had claimed paternity of Hunter's child in late 2007 to shield Edwards and his campaign from the negative publicity.

"He said he had known all along that Fred Baron had taken care of things, but he didn't know the exact details," Button testified, recalling a conversation with Edwards.

The apology to Young was removed from later drafts – Edwards told Button that Young was "a bad guy" – and Edwards started trying to fudge the details of Hunter's financial support.

Button said she struggled to come up with a line for Edwards' statement, finally settling on, "Some people without my knowledge supported Quinn."

"That deeply concerned me," she testified, adding that she knew it wasn't true.

All references to outside support for Hunter and the baby were eliminated by the time that Edwards finally issued the statement in January 2010.

Edwards told Button that he loved Hunter and continued to see her. When Button asked if the affair was still going on, he replied, "You're not entitled to all the details," she testified.

Earlier Tuesday, a videotape showing Edwards and Hunter having sex was brought out for the first time in the trial. Lawyers previously danced around the subject under orders from U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, referring to it only as a "personal video" or "private video."

Chapel Hill developer Tim Toben said that he and Young joked about the value of the tape, although they never considered using it to blackmail Edwards.

"I remember the numbers were pretty big numbers," he said.

Toben, who backed Edwards before learning of the affair, bolstered the government's case against Edwards on Monday by testifying to helping hide Hunter from the media and noting that Edwards later bragged how easy it was to get money from a wealthy donor to support anything he did.

Under cross-examination on Tuesday, however, Toben came across as someone who referred to Edwards and his wife in crass terms and helped former Edwards aide Andrew Young write a tell-all book about the candidate's affair and failed presidential campaign.

Defense attorney Allison van Laningham pulled out a series of profanity-laced emails between Toben and Young in which Toben referred to Edwards as a "pathetic little man" and "a sick, evil bastard." He told Young in the messages to "castigate" Edwards in his book, which he referred to as "our thesis."

"Edwards needs to be exposed as a skeeze," Toben wrote.

He was unable to define a skeeze for van Laningham but agreed it was an unflattering term.

"I thought that he had betrayed the trust of the people he spoke for," he told jurors.

When van Laningham suggested that Young's book was just a way to make money, Toben disagreed, saying the purpose of the book was to "get the truth out." Young didn't even want to write it, Toben said, but he encouraged him to do it.

Toben testified that he and Young were watching football one day when Young mentioned having a copy of the sex tape. Young said he would never use the tape to get money from Edwards, Toben said, but the two men joked about the tape's value.

The defense also painted Toben as a snitch, noting that he went to Barack Obama's campaign in the summer of 2008 to express concerns about Edwards, who had told Toben that he was under consideration as Obama's vice-presidential candidate.

"I was alarmed. I couldn’t believe a man with a 4-month-old baby with another woman would seriously consider running for vice president,” he testified.