Prosecution finishes up in Edwards trial with sex, lies and videotape
Posted May 10, 2012 10:33 a.m. EDT
Updated May 10, 2012 10:10 p.m. EDT
GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards stared at a computer monitor a foot in front of him Thursday afternoon, watching and listening to himself in a 2008 television interview lying repeatedly about his affair, his baby and money paid to his mistress.
Federal prosecutors rested their case against Edwards after playing a 20-minute videotape for jurors of an interview Edwards conducted with ABC News in August 2008 in which he publicly admitted for the first time having an affair with Rielle Hunter.
He maintained during the interview, however, that the affair ended "a long time ago" and was adamant that Hunter's baby wasn't his and that he knew nothing about any money that Fred Baron, his campaign finance chairman, had paid to Hunter.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles gave the jury Friday off so she can address various defense motions, including a request that Eagles dismiss the case because the government failed to prove any crime. Any defense testimony in the case would begin Monday.
It's unclear whether Edwards will testify in his defense.
As the 2008 interview played in court, whenever the subject of Hunter's baby came up, Edwards' face would tighten and he would glance at the floor, unable to watch himself deny he was the girl's father. Meanwhile, jurors scribbled notes furiously and shook their heads.
"I never paid a dime. I never asked anybody to pay a dime," Edwards said in the interview when questioned about Baron's financial backing of Hunter.
He maintained that Baron had his own relationship with Hunter and former campaign aide Andrew Young, who initially claimed to be the baby's father, and that any money Baron paid to them was done without his knowledge.
"If something was being paid, it wasn't being paid on my behalf," he said.
Edwards is accused of using nearly $1 million from Baron and Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to keep Hunter quiet and hide her from the media during the early stages of the 2008 campaign.
On Wednesday, former campaign staffer Jennifer Palmieri testified that Edwards was present during an October 2007 confrontation between his wife and Baron over his support of Hunter. Young and his wife testified earlier that Edwards reassured them that the money Mellon was sending was legal and wasn't a campaign contribution.
Prosecutors have spent 14 days and used 23 witnesses to lay out the scheme to route money from Mellon through intermediaries to Young for Hunter's support and a separate scheme in which Baron whisked Young, his wife and Hunter across the country aboard chartered jets in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, putting them up in posh resorts to keep them away from the campaign.
Earlier Thursday, one of Edwards' top advisers testified that the candidate was angling for a position in the administration of his two rivals as his own campaign crumbled in the Iowa cornfields.
Leo Hindery, who runs a private equity firm in New York, was the economic policy adviser to Edwards during his 2008 campaign. Edwards had worked Iowa for more than a year, Hindery said, and the entire campaign was built around him winning the caucuses there and carrying that momentum into other primaries.
When Edwards finished second to Barack Obama in Iowa, he immediately asked Hindery to reach out to Obama’s campaign to suggest Edwards as a potential vice presidential candidate. The Obama campaign rebuffed the entreaty, Hindery said, and as Edwards’ losses mounted in subsequent primaries, the campaign continued to work through back channels to get him considered as attorney general.
After first considering the nomination of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidate for president ”a disaster,” Edwards began to reach out to her campaign, as well, for a position, Hindery said. Edwards' ultimate goal was a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, Hindery said, and he was willing to endorse whichever candidate gave him the best shot at it.
The defense has argued that some of the money that went to Hunter was strictly a favor from a friend of Edwards to keep his affair from his wife. The claim is based on the notion that the payments continued for months after Edwards dropped out of the race for the White House.
After an FBI agent introduced a stack of checks and credit card statements Thursday showing Baron paid for planes and hotels for Young's family and Hunter, defense attorney Abbe Lowell questioned how much money Baron spent after Edwards ended his campaign in January 2008 versus the amount spent before then. The agent said he didn't know the breakdown.
But Hindery’s testimony bolstered the prosecution’s stance that Edwards was still politicking after his campaign ended, so the flow of secret money to Hunter had to continue into the summer of 2008.
In early 2009, Hindery said, Young went to New York to seek his advice. Young told him he was concerned about his family’s future and asked whether he should write a book about Edwards, adding that he had some private photos and a videotape.
“He was as sad a young man as I’ve ever been around,” Hindery testified.
He said he told Young to do what was best for his family but stressed that he needed to be truthful in telling the tale.
“Once a book is written, it’s always there,” he said he told Young.
The defense has painted Young as masterminding a scheme to bilk Mellon so he could build an upscale home in Chapel Hill and live the high life. Other prosecution witnesses were working with Young to discredit Edwards for their own financial gain, defense attorneys have suggested.
Young was "not especially smart," according to Hindery, and the defense was unable to put forth a financial motive for Hindery's testimony against Edwards.
In the end, Edwards was the one jurors heard saying he no longer had a reason to lie. His political life was over, he said in the ABC interview, and God and his wife had forgiven him for his indiscretions.
"I am at my core the same person," he said.