John Edwards intended to create a $50 million foundation for himself after losing his 2008 bid for the presidency and told a friend it would be a "chip shot" for elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to fund it for him.
"[Edwards] said he had a friend, Ms. Mellon who was very wealthy," testified Tim Toben, Edward's onetime friend and supporter who helped secret Edwards' pregnant mistress out of North Carolina.
It would be "chip shot for her endow the foundation" with $50 million, Toben said Edwards told him in June 2008 at a swank Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant.
Toben said Edwards' boast that evening made him uncomfortable. He knew the truth about Edwards' and his mistress. He said he even rummaged through her home, removing signed autographs reading "I love you, John," which the senator had given her.
But the "chip shot" conversation would resonate with Toben a year later when he ran into Edwards on the street.
By then the world knew Edwards had cheated on his wife, and a top aide Andrew Young was getting ready to publish a book about the affair. Toben was also friends with Young.
"You need to choose between your friendship with Andrew and your friendship with me," Edwards said darkly, Toben told the court.
"Andrew had crossed a line. He was not somebody to be trusted," Edwards said of Young, according to Toben's testimony.
"And then he said something frustrating to me: That Andrew had tried to bilk Ms. Mellon out of $50 million... I don't think he remembered a year earlier he told me it would be a 'chip shot' for her to fund the foundation, And it was the exact same number," Toben said.
Edwards is on trial for allegedly using campaign donations to hide his mistress and her subsequent pregnancy. Much of that money came from Mellon. Edwards could be sentenced to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Edwards' defense hinges on his argument that he never personally asked Mellon for any money and that Young acted on his own to solicit money.
Toben had a unique insider's view of Edwards's relationship with Hunter, joining them at a Dave Matthews concert and driving a pregnant Hunter to an airplane hanger at 4 a.m. to get her out of North Carolina and away from an increasingly suspicious press.
Earlier today, an assistant for Mellon told the court that just before his indictment last year Edwards asked the 101-year-old heiress for $3 million.
That was in addition to $725,000 she had already given to Edwards for his hush find and several million to Edwards' presidential campaign, superpac and a non-profit organization.
Tony Willis serves as Mellon's personal librarian and custodian of her correspondence. Mellon asked Willis to send a letter she dictated responding to a plea by Edwards asking "her for some additional money to get him established," he said.
"I understood her to say he asked for $3 million," Willis said, but Mellon denied the request saying "she couldn't provide the money."
Willis' testimony about the letter was made after a defense objection and the jury was excused.
Lawyers from both sides made impassioned pleas about whether or not the letter should be admitted into the record.
The prosecution is trying to prove that Edwards willfully, personally and routinely asked Mellon for money, bolstering its claim that Edwards knew about the $725,000 Mellon gave him over the course his campaign to win the presidency between 2006 and 2008.
The letter is proof Edwards "alone went to Mrs. Mellon and trying to get $3 million more," argued prosecutor Robert Higdon.
The defense has argued that Edwards never asked Mellon for money directly, and any money requested by his aide Andrew Young was done in an attempt by Young to steal money from the wealthy heiress himself.
Edwards' lawyers said the letter came years after the presidential campaign and the existence of his relationship with Rielle Hunter and their baby was acknowledged, and after Mellon had been questions by the FBI. Defense lawyers argued the letter should not be admitted as evidence.
The judge upheld the objection and the jury was brought back after discussions of the letter had ended.
Also today, a staffer testified that Edwards' mistress caused so much turmoil on his presidential campaign that one staffer messaged headquarters from the road pleading to be let off the "traveling freak show."
The comment came amid testimony that Edwards' Hunter was lavishly paid by the campaign although the video webisodes she made were so poorly done that the campaign refused to use them.
Former campaign manager Nick Baldick told the court today that Hunter earned more than $250,000, for producing just a handful of campaign videos for the Web.
It was an arrangement he "concluded was probably not a very good deal," but which Edwards insisted on maintaining despite Hunter producing videos that did not "portray Mr. Edwards very well."
"I thought the webisodes were a disaster," Baldick told the court.
The staff was also roiled by their growing perception that Edwards was having an affair with Hunter and her growing demands for access.
One staffer, Ryan Montoya requested Baldick "free me from this traveling freak show" after frustrating interactions with Hunter and her production partner.
Edwards was asked by senior advisers in 2006 to stop traveling with Hunter to squash romance rumors. From then Baldick was supposed to approved all travel Hunter did with the campaign, but whenever Baldick would refuse to approve Hunter for a trip he would get a call from Edwards, he said.
"Nick, she's going on this trip," Baldick quoted Edwards' repeated order to him.
Edwards, however, quietly celebrated a small victory for his defense when a crucial witness, Mellon's lawyer, said he believed that Mellon's cash was intended as a friendly gift and not as a political contribution.
"It was a good morning for the home team," Edwards whispered to his 30-year-old daughter Cate following the testimony of Alex Forger, an attorney who has represents Mellon.
Forger testified today that Mellon gave Edwards $725,000 during the his presidential campaign out of an abiding sense of loyalty and friendship and not as a political contribution.
"In later years she had few close friends," Forger said of his longtime client. "Her husband had died, and her daughter was ill. She took a liking to John Edwards as she had done with others. She liked him as an individual, as a person, not because he was a candidate."
Mellon gave Edwards all that money because "she felt very strongly for John Edwards," adding, "she wasn't interested in becoming secretary of state."
That testimony contradicts the prosecution's narrative that Mellon gave Edwards the money as a political contribution, which he used in part to hide his mistress and their love child.
Forger said he first learned Mellon was giving Edwards money, transferred through one of Mellon's friends to one of Edwards' aides, when a personal check Mellon had written for $150,000 bounced.
When he asked Mellon what the money was for, she said it was a personal gift to Edwards and not a political contribution.
Forger also said that when he first contacted Edwards in August 2008 to ask about the money, Edwards denied knowing about his aides receiving money from Mellon, but later admitted it was for his benefit.