Ex-Edwards aide talks about crumbling relationship

MICHAEL BIESECKER Associated Press Published:

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Andrew Young, once an aide and good friend to John Edwards, testified Wednesday that his relationship with the former presidential candidate began to crumble about the time Edwards dropped out of the 2008 race and his baby girl was born to his mistress.

Young, on the witness stand for the third day in Edwards' criminal trial, said the former North Carolina senator stopped returning his calls in January 2008, as Edwards was ending his White House bid. The next month, Edwards' child, Frances Quinn Hunter, was born to his mistress, Reille Hunter. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte.

Young, who initially claimed to be the father, testified that he had grown tired of living with Hunter and wondered why Edwards hadn't claimed paternity after the girl was born, as he had promised.

Young is a key witness in Edwards' criminal trial. Edwards is accused of conspiring to use secret payments from two wealthy donors to hide Hunter during his White House run. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign finance violations.

Edwards has denied knowing about the money and his attorneys claim that Andrew Young and his wife, Cheri, siphoned off the bulk of it to pay for the construction of their $1.5 million house near Chapel Hill. Edwards' attorneys will get a chance to cross examine Young later Wednesday, a day after Young said the candidate once called his mistress a "crazy slut" who others wouldn't believe was having an affair with him.

Young testified that he flew to Texas with his wife to meet with one of the wealthy donors, Fred Baron, with four demands. He wanted to know why Edwards hadn't claimed paternity; he wanted a face-to-face meeting with him; he wanted to know what his long-term plans were and he wanted to stop living with Hunter.

Baron arranged for Hunter to move out of a Santa Barbara, Calif., house she was sharing with the Youngs, and he set up the face-to-face meeting. But before that could happen, Edwards did eventually call Young and leave a voicemail. It was played in court: "I miss talking to you Andrew. We'll see you pal."

At the meeting in a hotel room near Washington on June 18, 2008, Edwards had just given a speech for then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and he was telling people that Obama would pick him for vice president, Young testified. That meant the child's paternity needed to remain a secret.

Edwards and Young talked.

"He said he loved me and that he knew that I knew he would never abandon me," Young testified.

At one point, Young overheard Edwards talking to an interior designer who prosecutors say was involved in funneling money to hide Hunter.

"You're a great American. The four of us are going to do great things for the country," Young said quoting Edwards, who was apparently referring to himself, the designer, Baron and Young.

The meeting grew intense, and Edwards and Young started yelling at each other before Young left.

Edwards is accused of directing Young to start giving money to Hunter in May 2007, after she threatened to go to the media and expose the affair. Edwards suggested asking elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who had already given generously to the campaign.

Prosecutors showed the jury checks from Mellon written to her interior designer, who would then endorse them and send them to Andrew and his wife, Cheri. Starting in June 2007, Mellon would eventually provide checks totaling $750,000.

Without telling Mellon what the money would be used for beyond that it was a "non-campaign" expense, Young said she offered to provide $1.2 million over time to help pay for the candidate's personal needs. Under federal law, donors are limited to giving a maximum of $2,300 per election cycle.

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