Power Play

Edwards on list of potential witnesses, as defense tries to discredit ex-aide's testimony

Will former presidential candidate take the stand?


The defense witness list at John Edwards' trial raises the possibility that the former senator and failed presidential candidate will testify.

"Mr. Edwards" was mentioned among the names on the list of witnesses for the next two days, though it remains uncertain whether the former trial lawyer will take the stand in his own defense.

Legal experts have differing opinions on whether calling Edwards to testify would benefit the defense. As a trial lawyer, Edwards has years of experience persuading juries. But Elon University law professor Steven Friedland, a former federal prosecutor, said lawyers often make bad witnesses.

"They are used to being in control and they're used to explaining things at their own pace in their own way," Friedland said. "As a witness, he's gong to lose that. And it should be a tactical decision by the defense as to whether he's needed."

Edwards' lawyers got their first chance to call witnesses Monday at the high-stakes corruption trial, and they went after the credibility of the government's star witness in a bid to counter the prosecution's three-week assault on Edwards' character. 

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Pollster Harrison Hickman took the stand in North Carolina and called into question the word of Andrew Young. Young, the former Edwards aide, was the first witness called by the prosecution last month. 

"If Andrew told me it was raining, I would go look out the window. I wouldn't trust him at all based on experiences I had with him," Hickman said. 

The defense team also gave their witnesses the floor Monday to help back their central claim that, while Edwards lied repeatedly about his affair with Rielle Hunter and their love child, he did not break any campaign finance laws in covering it up. 

Edwards' lawyers steered the focus of the trial from the drama and morality of their client's extramarital affair to the legality of funds used for the cover-up. 

Prosecutors are trying to prove Edwards used unreported campaign contributions to hide his pregnant mistress during his 2008 bid for president with the intent to protect his political career. 

The defense claims the funds in question were private gifts from friends to protect Edwards' cancer-stricken wife from finding out about his affair. 

"They were not contributions to the campaign," Laura Haggard, who served as chief financial officer for Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign, testified Monday. 

Haggard discussed a mandatory Federal Election Commission audit of campaign funds that ran from March 2008 through April 2012. She said the FEC determined the campaign had received no excessive contributions and closed the audit without reporting donations from benefactors Rachel "Bunny" Mellon or Fred Baron as campaign contributions. 

Prosecutors, who allege the money was used to hide Edwards' pregnant mistress to protect his campaign, attempted unsuccessfully to block this portion of Haggard's testimony. 

"Her view as to whether it is or is not a contribution is not relevant," argued prosecutor Jeffrey Tsai. "The jury needs to decide if (it is) or is not a campaign contribution." 

Edwards' lead attorney Abbe Lowell told the judge, "You strip that away, you strip the defense."

The judge allowed Haggard's testimony to unfold in front of the jury. 

Lowell asked Haggard whether the campaign would have to file with the FEC for any expenses covering an OBGYN appointment or baby crib for Edwards' mistress. 

Haggard replied, "That would be personal use. We are not allowed to pay for personal expenses." 

Lowell asked Haggard, "If something is not a contribution. Are there limits on what a person can spend?" 

Haggard replied, "No, there's no limits." 

Hickman also said he was good friends with Baron, one of the wealthy donors who funded efforts to keep Hunter in hiding. Hickman said Baron explained the motive behind his funding during a phone conversation from his hospital bed shortly before he died. 

"He did it personally because these were people whose lives had been disrupted by paparazzi," Hickman said. 

Describing Baron, Hickman testified, "He was always generous of other people. Having said that, he was a very by-the-book kind of guy -- he was persnickety." 

The last several weeks of testimony from the prosecution's witnesses have focused in large part on Edwards' character. The trial at times took on the feel of a soap opera, as ex-aides streamed through the courtroom to reveal lurid details about Edwards' affair with Hunter, and the drama that ensued with his family and his staff. 

The defense is focused on a simpler question -- did the cover-up constitute a crime? 

Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor who's observing the trial, noted Edwards is "not charged with having an affair" or with lying about it. 

"He's charged with violating campaign finance laws," Shanahan said. 

During Friday's arguments, Lowell said: "Mr. Edwards could have expenses for a baby if he had a campaign or if he didn't have a campaign. ... Mr. Edwards would hide an affair if he was or wasn't a candidate." 

Lead prosecutor David Harbach countered, "This is an experienced politician. He just didn't drop out of the sky in '07 and into a world of campaign finance he knew nothing about." 

Edwards' mistress Hunter is on the list of defense witnesses. But that's no guarantee she'll be called to testify. 

Hunter had also been on the prosecution's witness list, but never took the stand. 

"I think that bringing her back into the room brings in the wrong message in front of this jury," Shanahan said. "She's the reason that John Edwards is in this mess. ... It evokes the memory of Elizabeth Edwards and all the tawdry sorts of things in this case." 

However, Shanahan said it's more likely Edwards himself will testify, using his persuasive skills as a lawyer and politician to convince jurors of his innocence from a legal, if not moral, standpoint. 

"Given the nature of the charges and the defense that he didn't believe he was violating the campaign finance laws, I think only John Edwards can deliver that message," Shanahan said.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.