John Edwards Trial: Witness Says Money Earmarked to Hide Mistress Was 'For His Benefit'
The government wrapped up the 2nd week of its case-in-chief with a bombshell.
May 6, 2012— -- The government wrapped up the second week of its case-in-chief with something of a bombshell/cliffhanger combination for jurors to ponder over the weekend, when a witness revealed that John Edwards had acknowledged that the money earmarked to hide his mistress was "for his benefit."
After a day of colorful testimony from interior designer Bryan Huffman focusing on the "Bunny Money" that contributed to the cover-up of Edwards' affair, Bunny Mellon's attorney Alexander Forger, a stately New Yorker with a booming baritone voice, was called to the stand.
Forger described his efforts in 2008 to unravel the mystery of the secret payments -- totaling $725,000 -- that Mellon funneled through Huffman to Edwards aide Andrew Young. The checks were disguised as payments for furniture.
"Our furniture business did not involve furniture," Huffman had testified. "It was money for Senator Edwards."
Forger said that in late 2008 he spoke to Edwards about the payments, by then having traced the checks to an account controlled by Young.
Edwards denied knowing about the money and told Forger that he was sorry Young had bilked Mellon and thought Young ought to pay her back.
But Forger said that in a subsequent conversation with Wade Smith, Edwards' attorney at that time, the lawyer told him: "John has said, yes. He acknowledges now that this was for his benefit."
As a hush fell over the courtroom, prosecutor Robert Higdon suggested it would be a good time to stop for the day, denying Edwards' attorneys the chance to jump into cross examination. That was the last thing the jury heard before the weekend break.
It was not clear from Forger's testimony when Edwards learned about Mellon's money.
Edwards is charged with violating campaign finance laws by using nearly $1 million from wealthy donors to hide his pregnant girlfriend, Rielle Hunter. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Forger is due back on the stand Monday for more testimony that could perhaps explain what "for his benefit" means.
Later Monday, Nick Baldick, another crucial witness, is expected to be called by the government. A well-known Democratic political operative, Baldick ran Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign and was helping to raise soft money in 2006-07 for Edwards' second bid for the White House.
The jury has been hearing Baldick's name often during testimony thus far.
Young earlier testified that after he became the full-time caretaker of Hunter in late 2007, Edwards directed Baldick to put Young on the payroll of one of Baldick's political consulting firms, provide him health insurance and pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions for fundraising Young had done earlier that year.
If Baldick backs that story up it could be very damaging to Edwards' defense arguments that Young had gone rogue. If he doesn't, it will be just one more reason for the jury to doubt Young.
Baldick may also be asked about his efforts to resist Hunter's hiring as a videographer for an Edwards' PAC in 2006.
Other government witnesses expected Monday include two employees at Bunny Mellon's estate, one of her grandsons, and Tim Toben, a former Edwards' supporter who drove the Youngs and Hunter to the airport the night they were whisked out of North Carolona.
Toben may be asked about his discussions with Edwards about a poverty foundation that Edwards wanted to set up with Mellon after he dropped out of the race.
Prosecutors told Judge Catherine Eagles they think they could be prepared to rest their case by Thursday.