Published May 15, 2012
John Edwards' defense team brought out a parade of witnesses Tuesday to drive home two key points in his high-stakes corruption trial: the former presidential candidate was initially clueless about the hush money being sent to his mistress, and the prosecution's star witness can't be believed.
The defense team, on their second day of calling witnesses after three weeks of pummeling by the prosecution, sought foremost to establish that their client was unaware of secret funds used to hide his pregnant mistress during his 2008 campaign. They're also trying to prove that money represented legal private gifts, and not illegal political contributions.
In an important bit of testimony, South Carolina attorney and Edwards friend John Moylan described a visit with Rachel "Bunny" Mellon in which the heiress informed Edwards about the money she had funneled to former campaign aide Andrew Young.
"I believe that he was surprised to hear it, as I was," Moylan said. "(Edwards) said, 'Bunny should not be sending money to anyone.'"
Moylan added, "I believe to this day that Andrew Young was using Senator Edwards' name to get money from Mrs. Mellon."
Moylan said when the two men called another wealthy donor, Fred Baron, to inform him what they had learned, Baron responded, "That damn Andrew!"
The defense also questioned Edwards' former attorney Wade Smith, who described conversations he had in 2009 with Mellon's estate lawyer, Alex Forger, about the money she had been providing.
"It made sense to him that it would have been a gift to the benefit of Mr. Edwards," Moylan said.
According to Moylan, he and Forger agreed that the funds would be subject to a gift tax, but the thought that they might be interpreted as illegal campaign contributions never crossed their minds.
Elizabeth Nicholas, Edwards' former executive assistant while he served in the Senate, was meanwhile asked about Young.
"He was not a team player and I found him to be dishonest," she said.
When asked how Edwards' staff felt about Young, she replied, "He was not known to be truthful and he was kind of known for misrepresenting things."
Edwards' lead attorney Abbe Lowell asked former Federal Election Commission Chairman Scott Thomas whether third-party payments to another third party to cover up an affair had ever come up in the FEC's discussions of campaign finance regulations.
Thomas replied, "No."
Thomas on Tuesday stopped short of offering a direct opinion on the funds used to hide Edwards' mistress, based on a ruling by Judge Catherine Eagles barring such testimony.
Lowell appeared upset with the judge's ruling and suggested it might be overturned on appeal.