John Edwards' defense team battered the credibility of a key prosecution witness today, getting Andrew Young to admit that he double dipped on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expenses while hiding Edwards' pregnant mistress.
Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell also raised doubts about a series of statements that Young has made, and bolstered the defense's argument that Young used Edwards' sex scandal to enrich himself.
In a barrage of questions, Lowell suggested that Young volunteered to claim paternity for Edwards' pregnant mistress to make Edwards more indebted to him, and raised the possibility that it was Young who alerted the National Enquirer to the scandal, a suggestion Young denied.
Young is a crucial witness for the prosecution which accuses Edwards of using illegal donations from two supporters to hide the pregnancy of mistress Rielle Hunter during the 2008 presidential campaign. Edwards, who twice ran for the presidency, could be sentenced to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Young has testified that he was assigned to keep Hunter hidden even after Edwards dropped out of the presidential race because Edwards was angling for a top spot, possibly vice president or attorney general.
Today was the second day of Lowell's grinding cross examination and he wrested a damaging admission from Young who conceded that he sought reimbursement from one of Edwards' wealthy backers -- Fred Baron -- for expenses already paid by another wealthy backer -- Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
In March 2008, Young has testified, he provided Baron with a spread sheet of expenses he had incurred for the cover-up totalling more than $200,000.
"Were you trying to suggest to him (Baron) that you were in the hole for $200,000?" Lowell asked.
"I think that is fair to say, yes," Young replied.
What Young didn't tell Baron is that he had already paid the expenses with Mellon's money which totalled $725,000.
"All of these [expenses] were incurred at time when you had hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mrs. Mellon?" Lowell asked. "Yes sir," he replied.
"Isn't the very reason you didn't tell him (Baron) was because you wanted to solicit him and you didn't want him to know you had already gotten three quarters of a million dollars from her?" the lawyer asked.
"No sir," Young answered.
Young has testified that the reason he didn't tell Baron about Mellon's money is that Edwards had instructed him to keep each donor in the dark about the other.
Baron gave Young $335,000 to cover Hunter's expenses, records show.
Young was building a house at the time and he conceded during testimony that "a substantial amount," of Mellon's money went into finishing a house he was building, and the plans expanded to include a swimming pool, to wire the house for audio and digital, and put a guest room in the attic.
Lowell also focused on Young's contention that Edwards lobbied him to handle the pregnancy scandal by claiming paternity. The request was made, Young has claimed, in a phone call from Edwards on Dec. 13 while Young was shopping for an aquarium in a Petsmart store.
The deciding factor in agreeing to the charade, Young has said, was seeing a Newsweek magazine that had Edwards on the cover with the headline "The Sleeper," suggesting he could still win the presidency.
But Lowell produced evidence that the magazine cover was actually dated Dec. 24, and asked Young whether the Petsmart version was a made-up story.
"Wasn't claiming paternity a way for you to get Mr. Edwards to further indebted to you," Lowell asked.
"That was not a thought process at this point. It was putting out a fire," Young said.
In another effort to chip away at Young's credibility, Lowell had a flurry a questions about how the National Enquirer found out about the pregnancy, which eventually ended Edwards' political career and his marriage.
"Were you the source for the National Enquirer?" Lowell asked. "No, sir," Young replied.
"Do you know the National Enquirer's phone number?" the lawyer asked. "I do," Young said.
"Have you ever made a phone call to the National Enquirer?" Lowell asked. "I have," Young answered.
Lowell dropped the subject without offering any evidence.
Edwards' defense team also tried to establish that Edwards sought money from wealthy donors to hide the pregnancy from his wife Elizabeth Edwards, not to finance his presidential ambitions. Mrs. Edwards had earlier become aware of the affair with Hunter and had told her husband to break it off.
"It wasn't as if the campaign and the media were going [through the records,]" Lowell said to Young. "It was Mrs. Edwards. The person he was trying to avoid finding out about [the affair] was Mrs. Edwards."
Lowell cited a December 2007 voice mail from Edwards on Young's phone in which he is asking Young to call back quickly because Elizabeth Edwards will be with him shortly.
"He does not mention the Iowa caucuses are coming up. He doesn't mention there's an election coming up. The concern he is showing is about Elizabeth," Lowell said. "He doesn't mention the National Enquirer. He's not talking about becoming the vice president or the attorney general."
"No, sir," was Young's only reply.
Kieran Shanahan, a former prosecutor, said it was a tough day for Young and the prosecution.
"He is withering on the vine," Shanahan said about Young. "He is backing off some of his positions and I think he's really done damage to his own credibility and the government's case."
Lowell's contention that Edwards' motive was to hide the pregnancy from his wife also undercut the prosecution, Shanahan said.
"I think Mrs. Edwards was on top of his finances and the reason he couldn't write the checks is because he didn't want her to find out about it. And the reason I think the defense thinks that is important is because it goes against their theory that he was doing this to help his campaign. So, it's a critical point," he said.