GREENSBORO, N.C. – Defense lawyers for John Edwards will argue at his trial that much of the nearly $1 million in secret payments at issue in the criminal case against their client were actually siphoned off by a trusted aide to build a dream home.
The former aide, Andrew Young, is potentially the prosecution’s most important witness. He was once so loyal to Edwards he falsely claimed paternity of the baby fathered by his married boss in an attempt to avoid a sex scandal.
Young’s testimony, along with a cache of voicemails he received from Edwards, will be vital to making the government’s case that the North Carolina Democrat masterminded the effort to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
Destroying Young’s credibility with the jury, therefore, will be essential for the defense team’s strategy to keep their client out of prison. Opening arguments are set for Monday, with the trial expected to last at least six weeks.
Edwards, 58, has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts related to campaign finance violations. The indictment filed by the U.S. Justice Department last year recounts more than $933,000 in unreported payments from two campaign donors who had already given the maximum contributions allowed by law.
Edwards denies knowing about the money.
The bulk of the cash was provided by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 101-year-old heiress who lives on a secluded Virginia estate so massive it contains a landing strip for her private jet. A friend of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, prosecutors say Mellon offered under-the-table cash to cover Edwards’ personal expenses after the candidate was embarrassed by media reports that campaign funds were used to pay for $400 haircuts.