State News

Edwards donor says he told Obama camp about affair

Posted May 8, 2012 12:04 p.m. EDT

— A onetime donor to John Edwards testified Tuesday that he warned President Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 to look closely at rumors about the former North Carolina senator's infidelity before it considered offering him any position in the administration.

Chapel Hill developer Tim Toben said from the witness stand at Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial that he was astonished when Edwards told him he still had lofty political aspirations over dinner in June of 2008. By then, Edwards' presidential bid had unraveled and affair rumors were surfacing.

Toben also made the first mention of a sex tape depicting Edwards and his mistress in front of jurors during another part of testimony.

During their meal at an upscale restaurant, Edwards told Toben that he was still popular enough to be tapped as Obama's running mate or win a spot in his Cabinet, Toben said. Toben said he found it "astonishing" that Edwards believed he could still merit such a position of authority considering that tabloids were reporting on his affair, and Toben knew the reports to be true.

Further, Toben found it unsavory that Edwards still aspired to such positions of power.

"I thought he betrayed the trust of the people he spoke for," Toben said, referring to the poverty-stricken Americans whom Edwards sought to represent through philanthropic foundations.

After the dinner, Toben said he called the director of Obama's campaign in the state and told him that he believed the tabloid reports about Edwards' affair were true. Toben advised that the eventual president should look closely at the rumors before offering Edwards any spot in the administration.

Toben had testified a day earlier that he once took Hunter to a private jet hangar around 4 a.m. while she was on the run from tabloid reporters. He later retrieved possessions of Hunter's from a rented house in Chapel Hill that included a signed picture of Edwards. The picture was signed: "I love you, John."

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts alleging campaign finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. A key issue at the trial is how much Edwards knew about roughly $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy donors, some of which was used to hide Hunter.

Toben also made the first mention in front of jurors of a sex tape that showed Edwards and Hunter. The tape was found by the former candidate's key aide, Andrew Young, who helped Hunter stay out of the public eye. Toben was Young's friend and neighbor.

Asked about the tape by defense lawyers, Toben said he had jokingly talked to Young about how much the tape might be worth. The defense lawyers produced a 2009 email from Toben to Young that said: "Wonder what that tape is worth today?"

Young is now a key witness for prosecutors, and Edwards' lawyers have tried to portray him as greedy and dishonest. Young and his wife have testified that they had no intention of selling the tape but kept it as proof of the affair.