National News

Edwards' mistress, daughter, staff may testify

Posted April 13, 2012 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2012 6:25 p.m. EDT

— The witness list for the John Edwards criminal trial includes dozens of names close to the former presidential candidate, including the woman at the heart of the sex scandal that destroyed his political career.

The proposed lists of witnesses for the defense and prosecution were released late Thursday, following the start of jury selection for Edwards' federal trial in Greensboro. The Democrat faces six counts related to nearly $1 million in secret payments from two campaign donors used to help hide the married candidate's pregnant mistress as he sought the White House.

Edwards mistress, Rielle Hunter, is on both the government's and defense witness lists, while his eldest daughter, Cate Edwards, could testify for the defense.

As expected, former campaign aide Andrew Young is listed as a prosecution witness, as is his wife, Cheri Young. Young handled the money for Hunter's care and falsely claimed paternity of Edwards' child. After repeatedly denying the affair, the former U.S. senator admitted the baby was his in 2010.

Key to the government's case is proving that Edwards, 58, knew about the payments, which prosecutors contend were illegal campaign donations under federal law.

The money came from Edwards' national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an heiress and socialite who is now 101 years old. Both had already given Edwards' campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Baron's widow, Lisa Blue, is listed as a witness for both sides. Mellon is considered too frail to travel to the North Carolina courthouse from her Virginia estate, but her longtime lawyer, Alex Forger, is expected to testify.

Bryan Huffman, an interior decorator used to funnel some of Mellon's money to Andrew Young, also is listed as a potential witness for both the prosecution and defense.

Edwards' former campaign manager Nick Baldick, who ran a fundraising organization to which Mellon made donations, is on both witness lists, as is Edwards' former law partner David Kirby.

State Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, who managed Edwards' 1998 run for U.S. Senate, is listed as a prosecution witness.

The defense witness list includes two former members of the Edwards defense team, lawyers Wade Smith of Raleigh and Jim Cooney of Charlotte. Smith was forced to withdraw in in October after prosecutors suggested he had a conflict of interest. They said he might be called to testify about a 2009 conversation he had with Forger about Edwards' knowledge of the money from Mellon.

Former Edwards press secretary Jennifer Palmieri is expected to testify she was present in an Iowa hotel room in October 2007 when Elizabeth Edwards confronted her husband, Baron and Baron's wife about the couple's support of Hunter.

According to Palmieri's account, Baron and Blue tried to calm Edwards' angry wife by saying the mistress was a "loose cannon" who had to be kept happy, lest she go to the press.

Eileen Mancera, a financial adviser to the Edwards campaign, is expected to testify that Baron called her in early January 2008 to chastise her for offering her services to the Obama campaign. Baron urged Mancera to stick with Edwards in the hope he would be named the Democratic vice presidential nominee, according to the government.

Edwards dropped out of the presidential race on Jan. 30, 2008. It has not yet been decided whether he will testify in his own defense.

If convicted, Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and as much as $1.5 million in fines.