Huffpost Politics

John Edwards Trial Judge Recuses Self From Hearing

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — The judge overseeing John Edwards' criminal trial on Wednesday recused herself from considering whether to quash a subpoena issued to a former speech writer for the two-time presidential candidate.

Edwards' lawyers are seeking an extensive list of documents from Wendy Button, a 2008 campaign staffer expected to testify for the prosecution.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles said Wednesday that her husband is a former law partner of one of the lawyers representing Button. Another judge will hold a hearing Friday in Greensboro to determine whether Button must comply with the subpoena.

Eagles will still oversee the trial, which is expected to last at least six weeks. Jury selection is underway, with opening statements scheduled for Monday.

Edwards, a Democrat, has pleaded not guilty to campaign finance violations related to nearly $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy campaign donors. Much of the money was used to help hide the then-married politician's pregnant mistress during his 2008 campaign. Edwards' lawyers contend that even had he known about the secret payments, his actions wouldn't amount to a crime under federal law because his motivation was keeping his wife from learning of the affair, not influencing the outcome of an election.

A longtime speech writer for Edwards, Button helped draft the 2009 statement in which the one-term North Carolina senator and 2004 vice-presidential nominee admitted his affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom he fathered a daughter as he sought the White House. Edwards repeatedly denied the affair following a December 2007 tabloid report about Hunter's pregnancy.

Button said she had no knowledge of the affair or resulting cover-up during the 2008 campaign, which imploded under the weight of the allegations. But she has written about her later discussions with Edwards, counseling him on how to admit he lied to the American people.

In a 2010 piece published by Huffington Post, Button wrote of the personal toll that Edwards' deception took on those who had believed in his potential to lead the nation.

"For the hundreds of us who didn't repair sex tapes with scotch tape, the truth and the details of John's mess, they break our hearts all over again," Button wrote. "It's like watching and re-watching disaster footage and there's nothing we can do about it to stop everything from crumbling to the ground."

Button's name is listed as a potential witness on lists filed by both prosecutors and the defense. But the April 12 subpoena from Edwards' lawyers indicates they see the former speech writer as a potentially hostile witness.

The document orders Button to provide copies of e-mails and all other communications she has had with government investigators and lawyers, with members of the media and with Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide expected to be a key prosecution witness.

Young, who is married, falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child in 2007 and set off on a cross-country odyssey with the pregnant mistress to outrun those seeking to expose the candidate's affair. Young also handled much of the money at issue in the criminal case.

Young and Hunter recently ended a two-year legal battle over ownership of a sex tape the mistress recorded with Edwards during the campaign, agreeing to a settlement that dictates that copies of the video will be destroyed.

The subpoena issued to Button also seeks a copy of any draft book or articles she may be writing about Edwards, including any accounts of conversations she had with Elizabeth Edwards, the candidate's deceased wife. Edwards' lawyers also want copies of all Facebook posts and other social media entries made by Button since 2009.

Button, who has retained at least three lawyers, filed a motion this week seeking to quash the subpoena as "unreasonable and oppressive."

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Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck

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