GREENSBORO, N.C. – Opposing lawyers in the John Edwards trial wrangled with a judge over whether to allow testimony about a sex tape of the former presidential candidate and allegations of an affair involving an ex-aide who ended a week on the witness stand Friday.
Edwards is accused of directing a conspiracy to use about $1 million in campaign donors' payments to help hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008. He denies knowing about the money and has pleaded not guilty.
Former aide and confidante Andrew Young testified this week that he deposited the payments from a wealthy Texas lawyer who served as Edwards' campaign finance chairman and an elderly heiress into personal accounts controlled by him and his wife. The money was used to help build a $1.5 million North Carolina home; Young, who is testifying under an immunity agreement, said he did not pay income taxes on the money.
Prosecutors objected Friday when a defense lawyer for Edwards asked Young whether he had threatened to release a "private video" to expose Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles instructed Edwards lawyer Abbe Lowell to continue his cross-examination of Young without mentioning the tape.
After conferring with the judge, Lowell said he would wait to potentially discuss the tape when the defense presents its case.
Hunter sued Young in state court two years ago over ownership of the sex tape and other personal items in Young's possession. That civil suit was settled earlier this year with an agreement to destroy all copies of the tape, though there are suggestions in court documents that federal investigators may still have a copy.
Defense attorneys had no intention of showing the tape to the jury, but wanted to mention it in the context of the allegation that Young threatened to out Edwards' affair with Hunter in an August 2008 conversation on a dead-end road near Edwards' Chapel Hill estate.
Young was the first witness called by prosecutors and earlier this week testified about the conversation. Young had said Edwards was acting nervous and that "at one point I feared for my life," he testified Friday.
Confronted with copies of his amended tax returns for 2007 and 2008, Young acknowledged that he had used about $1 million of $1.2 million in the payments from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and lawyer Fred Baron for himself.
Young also testified he didn't pay taxes on the money. In Young's 2010 tell-all book about the Edwards' scandal, he wrote that he considered the donors' payments to be "gifts," not taxable income.
The distinction is at the heart of the defense strategy that the secret payments were "gifts from friends" intended to hide Edwards' affair from his cancer-stricken wife, not campaign contributions intended to influence the outcome of the election.
Hunter is expected to testify later in the trial, also with an immunity agreement.
Young also acknowledged contacting three witnesses listed for the defense before the trial occurred, telling Lowell he had called two men and a woman.
Eagles told the defense it could mention Young had called the witnesses in opening statements, but barred Edwards' lawyers from characterizing the contact as "witness tampering" or mentioning that Young had had a "one-night stand" with one of the witnesses.
On Friday, Lowell asked Young what he had asked the woman when he called.
"It was for a personal issue, sir," Young replied.
Asked how the woman described her potential testimony, Young replied that she said she would tell the truth. That prompted Lowell to ask Young if he responded by telling her that the truth would "mess up everything."
Young said he couldn't recall whether he said that.
Young's wife, Cheri, took the stand late Friday and will return on Monday.
Lowell on Friday quoted a passage from Young's book, for which he was paid "hundreds of thousands of dollars" through publishing and movie deals.
Young wrote that he was concerned "anyone looking in from the outside would consider what I did and conclude that I must have been a cold-bloodied schemer who was motivated by ego or greed or the desire for power."
"Mr. Young, isn't that exactly what you are?" Lowell asked.
"No sir," Young replied.
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