Local Politics

Edwards visits donor's farm amid grand jury investigation

Posted December 11, 2009 6:27 p.m. EST
Updated December 11, 2009 7:58 p.m. EST

— Two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Friday visited the property of a major campaign supporter, WRAL News has learned.

The trip to Rachel "Bunny" Mellon's farm in Upperville, Va., comes as a federal grand jury in Raleigh is looking into how Edwards spent campaign funds.

Edwards admitted in August 2008 – eight months after dropping out of the presidential race – that he had an affair with Rielle Hunter, who had been hired by his campaign to produce promotional videos. He said the affair ended in 2006, and he has denied fathering her daughter, who was born in early 2008.

A book by former Edwards aide Andrew Young, which is due out in February, claims Mellon contributed money to keep Edwards' affair quiet, a source told WRAL News. Young previously said he was the father of Hunter's daughter, but he claims in the book that Edwards is the girl's father.

Fred Baron, Edwards' campaign finance chairman who died last year of cancer, previously acknowledged that he paid for Hunter and Young's family to resettle in California. He said he provided the money on his own.

Mellon, a 99-year-old heiress to the fortunes of both 19th century industrialist Andrew Mellon and the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company, was a major political contributor to Edwards in his 2008 presidential campaign. She gave $3.4 million in late 2007 to The Alliance for a New America, a nonprofit supporting his candidacy.

The private jet that Edwards flew on Friday is registered to Oak Springs Farms, the corporate entity that holds Mellon's fortune. The flight plan had the plane landing at Mellon's private airstrip.

Edwards' friend and former law partner, David Kirby, also was on the plane.

Edwards declined to comment Friday while walking across the tarmac at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. His attorney, Wade Smith, also declined to comment.

Kieran Shanahan, a defense attorney in Raleigh and a former federal prosecutor, said Edwards' trip raises questions.

"I'd be very disappointed if I had a client making contact or having any association with anyone in an investigation, especially a witness," Shanahan said.

Sources have told WRAL News that they expect Edwards to publicly admit paternity of the child, most likely after the investigation into the use of his campaign funds is over.