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John Edwards Trial: Campaign Finance Chairman Paid Rielle Hunter

By MICHAEL BIESECKER 05/15/12 08:08 PM ET AP

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Attorneys for John Edwards on Tuesday indicated that their defense in his criminal trial for alleged campaign finance violations is winding down, but they did not say whether the former presidential candidate or his one-time mistress will take the witness stand.

Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell said his team will make a final decision about their remaining witnesses late Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear if that information will be made public before Edwards' trial resumes Wednesday morning.

After Tuesday's proceedings wrapped up with testimony focusing on financial records, Lowell said the defense could close out its case by calling Edwards, his oldest daughter Cate and Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom he had an extramarital affair while running for president in 2008.

Defense attorneys could also recall Edwards' ex-aide Andrew Young, the first witness for the prosecution when the trial began more than three weeks ago.

Lowell told U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles that the defense may call several, all or none of the remaining potential witnesses before resting its case.

"We may also very well be done tomorrow," Lowell said.

Edwards' attorneys have called a series of witnesses this week aimed at shifting the jury's focus from the lurid details of a political sex scandal to the legal question of whether the former North Carolina senator's actions violated federal campaign finance laws.

Edwards is charged with masterminding a plan to use about $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress as he ran for the White House in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts including conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting contributions that exceeded federal limits, and filing false campaign-finance statements. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

To win a conviction, the government must convince jurors that Edwards' not only knew about the scheme to hide his mistress, but that he knew doing so violated the law and that he did so anyway.

Before winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1998, Edwards made a fortune as a personal injury lawyer renowned for his ability to sway jurors to award his clients huge settlements. Edwards' gifts of persuasion were so renowned within North Carolina that other lawyers would fill the courtroom to hear him deliver a closing argument.

Raleigh defense attorney Kieran J. Shanahan, who knows Edwards from his legal career, has attended nearly every day of his trial. He said he would be shocked if Edwards didn't take the stand in his own defense.

"The jury wants to hear from him and I believe Edwards wants to testify," said Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor. "He built his life on making big bets on his ability to convince jurors of his case."

But taking the stand is not without risk for Edwards. He would expose himself to what would likely be a withering cross-examination from prosecutors about his past lies and personal failings.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday by playing video of a 2008 national television interview in which Edwards repeatedly lied about his extramarital affair and denied fathering Hunter's baby. Earlier testimony from a parade of former aides and advisers also painted an unflattering portrait of Edwards.

The defense, in turn, has focused on undermining the credibility of the government's key witnesses and showing that Edwards and his campaign never touched the money at issue.

Records introduced Tuesday showed Edwards' 2008 campaign finance chairman, the late Fred Baron, used personal funds to pay Hunter a $9,000 monthly cash allowance, on top of providing flights on private jets, stays at luxury resorts and a $20,000-a-month California rental mansion.

A wealthy Texas trial lawyer, Baron was one of two political supporters who combined gave about $1 million to help hide Hunter. Evidence shows regular deposits from Baron's account into Hunter's checking account, the sum totaling $74,000.

The deposits began in June 2008 – several months after Edwards ended his White House run – and continued until December 2008, two months after Baron died of cancer.

The timing of the payments is important. The defense has argued that most of the money at issue was spent after Edwards ended his presidential bid in January 2008 and can therefore not be considered a campaign contribution intended to influence the outcome of the election. Prosecutors claim Edwards was still seeking the Democratic vice presidential nomination or a future appointment as attorney general, providing a political motivation to continue hiding his affair.

Though Edwards' attorneys have conceded he had some limited knowledge of Baron's support for Hunter, they deny he knew anything about $725,000 provided to Young by the wealthy heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an ardent supporter of Edwards' campaign. But even if he had, the defense argues, the secret payments were not campaign contributions – bur rather gifts intended to hide Hunter from Edwards' wife Elizabeth. She died in late 2010 after battling cancer.

The defense has also hammered the credibility of Young, once so close to Edwards he falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's baby in December 2008 when a tabloid first threatened to expose that Hunter was pregnant. The aide later fell out with Edwards, writing a tell-all book about the affair in 2010 that helped force Edwards to finally acknowledge his paternity.

The defense has used testimony from other witnesses and records entered into evidence to paint Young as a self-interested liar who fabricated whole scenes in his book. They also pointed out instances where Young, who testified under an immunity agreement with the government, contradicted his earlier accounts on the witness stand.

According to financial records introduced Tuesday, the Youngs received a total of $1.07 million from Baron and Mellon in 2007 and 2008. The couple later amended their tax returns for those yeas to indicate they spent about $191,000 on Hunter, paying gift taxes on the money. Defense attorneys argue that number is likely inflated.

Financial records for the couple show most of the money that the Youngs received from Mellon and Baron was spent on the couple's $1.6 million home in North Carolina.

Earlier Tuesday, Edwards' former lawyer, Wade Smith, testified about conversations he had with Alex D. Forger, an attorney for Mellon. Forger had earlier testified for prosecutors, saying he told Smith that Edwards acknowledged some of the "Bunny Money" had been given for his benefit.

Smith said Forger misunderstood their conversation.

"I would not ever quote my client to someone else," Smith testified, saying that would violate attorney-client privilege.

When Edwards' team rests its case, prosecutors will get the chance to call witnesses for the limited purpose of rebutting the testimony and evidence presented by the defense.

The two sides will then be allotted equal amounts of time to make their closing arguments before the judge instructs the jury on the details of what to consider in arriving at their verdict.

Shanahan predicted the defense will call Cate Edwards, a 30-year-old lawyer, to help humanize her father to jurors. Since Elizabeth Edwards' death, John Edwards has tried to lead a quiet life in Chapel Hill raising his two school-age children, Emma Claire and Jack. He also financially supports his youngest daughter, Francis Quinn Hunter, who is now 4 and lives in Charlotte with her mother.

Though Rielle Hunter's name is still on the list of potential witnesses, Shanahan said he would be surprised if the defense calls her to the stand.

Said Shanahan: "To bring in Ms. Hunter brings in a lot of negatives."

___

Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck

In 2010, Rielle Hunter opened up to GQ about her relationship with Edwards. Below
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  • Love At First Sight?

    "And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"

  • An Extraordinary Night

    "We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"

  • The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt

    "Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."

  • 'I Had To Sleep With Him'

    "I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."

  • Falling In Love

    "I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."

  • Here's ... Johnny!

    "Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."

  • Knight In Shining Armor?

    "I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."

  • On Her Relationship Status

    "I am not engaged."

  • Why She's Talking Now

    "I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."

  • Not A Gold Digger

    "I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."

  • 'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'

    "And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."

  • 'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'

    "I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."

  • A Toxic Relationship

    "[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."

  • 'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'

    "Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."

  • Not A 'Home Wrecker'

    "And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."

  • Naming Frances Quinn Hunter

    "Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."

  • Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?

    "Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."

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Filed by Elyse Siegel  |