GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The wife of the campaign aide who claimed paternity for former presidential candidate John Edwards’ baby cried on the witness stand on Monday as she recalled why she let her husband say he was the father of someone else’s child.
Cheri Young said Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina who was seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, explained that the arrangement was necessary to keep his campaign alive and to prevent his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, from finding out about the affair.
After the candidate convinced his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and longtime aide, Andrew Young, to go along with the cover-up, Cheri Young said she felt she had no choice but to follow suit.
“I didn’t want the responsibility of knowing that because I didn’t go along with this, that because I didn’t want to try it, that the campaign would explode and it would be my fault and I would have to live with it,” Cheri Young testified.
Her testimony opened the second week of Edwards’ federal campaign finance trial in Greensboro, North Carolina. Young’s voice often filled with fresh fury and disgust as she described the events that took place years ago.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles cut the court session on Monday short after Young’s attorney said she had fallen ill with a migraine headache. She is expected to return to the stand on Tuesday.
Prosecutors accuse Edwards, 58, of conspiring with Andrew Young to solicit more than $900,000 in illegal campaign contributions from two wealthy donors as part of a plan to conceal the candidate’s pregnant mistress from the media and voters.
Edwards, a former trial attorney who became a two-time presidential candidate and the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2004, faces possible prison time if convicted of federal election law violations, including charges of conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.
Andrew Young, the government’s lead witness, testified against his former boss for much of last week and had his credibility attacked by the defense.
On Monday, Young’s wife reiterated many details from his testimony, acknowledging that she used her maiden name to endorse checks totaling $725,000 from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and deposited them in the Youngs’ personal bank accounts.
Cheri Young said she questioned the legality of the arrangement. Through her husband’s job as a fundraiser, she knew there were limits to how much an individual donor could provide a campaign, she said.
She said Edwards told her during a phone call that his campaign advisers said the payments were legal, and he ordered her to “get the money in” to assist Hunter.
“We were at a peak point” in the campaign, Young said. “And if I didn’t do this to take care of this woman, the campaign was going down.”
Edwards’ defense says the Youngs used much of the money from Mellon and supporter Fred Baron to help build themselves a $1.5 million home. The defense argues Edwards committed no crime because the payments were of a personal nature to keep Elizabeth Edwards from learning of the affair and not to influence the election.
Prosecutors on Monday showed jurors bank records for the $38,000 in checks the Youngs wrote to Hunter between June and December 2007.
“We gave her a monthly stipend, which was per Mr. Edwards’ request,” Cheri Young said.
She said the Youngs also allowed Hunter to live with them in North Carolina to get her away from tabloid reporters chasing the story of Edwards’ affair. They bought her a $26,000 BMW, added her to their American Express account and paid her $2,700 monthly rent and other expenses once she moved into her own place, Young said.
The Youngs and their three children eventually spent months traveling with Hunter to luxury locations around the country to further shield her from the media after Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity, Cheri Young said.
She described how her frustration grew after Edwards ended his presidential campaign and fell out of regular contact with the Youngs, who by then were living in California with Hunter and the baby girl she gave birth to in February 2008.
“Mr. Edwards would not return any calls,” she said. “And the only reason we were there was for Mr. Edwards.”
Hunter later sued the Youngs to win back possession of a videotape purported to show Edwards and his mistress having sex. Attorneys confirmed on Monday that neither side plans to show jurors the tape, but witnesses may be asked some questions related to it.
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Eric Walsh