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Ex-aide's wife: Edwards said donations for mistress's expenses were legal

From Joe Johns, CNN
May 1, 2012 -- Updated 0256 GMT (1056 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Cheri Young says John Edwards sharply told her to "get the money in"
  • NEW: Wife of Edwards aide, Young says she flew around U.S. with the politician's mistress
  • NEW: She says she helped pay Rielle Hunter's expenses after Edwards reassured her
  • Federal prosecutors say Edwards used campaign donations to hide his affair

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) -- John Edwards sternly reassured the wife of his then-campaign aide that using money from his wealthy benefactor to pay his mistress's expenses was legal, she testified Monday.

"'Get the money in,'" Edwards said during a conversation with Cheri Young that he had while running for president just less than five years ago, Young recalled Monday. "He was very short and very angry."

Prosecutors say those donations, which weren't reported to federal authorities, were illegal and a chief reason Edwards is on trial in federal court on six felony counts. Also charged with conspiracy and making false statements, he could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Young testified Monday she felt "disgusted" after being asked to endorse and deposit checks from 101-year-old heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon intended to pay the expenses of Rielle Hunter.

The then-married Edwards eventually admitted having an affair with Hunter, whom his campaign hired as a videographer, and fathering her child.

Demanding that Edwards himself tell her such contributions were above board, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina assured her that they were legal, based on his conversations with campaign lawyers, Young testified.

She added that she wrote thousands of dollars worth of checks to pay Hunter's expenses. Prosecutors held up copies of several such checks in court Monday, including at least $8,000 for Hunter's California-based spiritual adviser.

Young also described Hunter's whirlwind travels to escape the media on private planes around the holidays in 2007 and 2008.

That included stops in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Aspen, Colorado; and San Diego. Upon arriving at the Young's house in North Carolina, Young said, "Ms. Hunter took a spin in the entryway and announced, 'I'm here.' "

Young sobbed so much on the stand Monday, after explaining her reaction upon being told Edwards allegedly wanted her husband to claim he was the father of Hunter's child, that the judge temporarily dismissed the jury.

"The first thing in my mind was how in the world Mr. Edwards could ask one more thing of us," Young said of her thoughts at the time.

Despite her initial reservations, Young said she participated in a December 2007 conference call with her husband, Edwards and the pregnant Hunter.

"Mr. Edwards was trying to get everyone on board," Young testified. "(He talked) over and over about the campaign."

She said Edwards also mentioned that he didn't want his wife, Elizabeth, who had been diagnosed with cancer, to find out about the affair and child. Andrew Young did once claim to be the father of Hunter's child, though Edwards later confirmed the child was in fact his after losing his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Edwards is accused of concealing $725,000 in contributions from Mellon and more than $200,000 from late Texas lawyer Fred Baron from the public and the Federal Election Commission, which monitors political contributions, by filing false and misleading campaign disclosure reports.

Edwards' attorneys have argued that Andrew Young, Cherie's husband and one of the leaders of Edwards' campaign, was instead involved in what was largely a ruse to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors for his personal use.

The former aide admitted during questioning by Edwards' attorney that he used campaign donations for his own benefit, including to fund construction of a home that included a pool and a theater.

Andrew Young is the author of the tell-all book "The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down." Young was hammered last week on the witness stand about his own motives and asked whether he made up stories about how Edwards concealed contributions from campaign donors.

He testified that he wrote the book for two reasons: He needed the money, and he believed Edwards did not live up to a promise to tell the truth.

One much-discussed byproduct of Hunter and Edwards' relationship -- a purported sex tape -- also came up in court Monday.

The tape will not be played during Edwards' trial, though it may be a topic of discussion.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell indicated Monday that he is considering recalling Andrew Young to the stand to ask him whether he had the tape on August 18, 2008, whether he stole the tape, whether he considered selling the tape and whether he used the tape's existence to help sell his book.

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