Was he a devoted father, who was trying to protect his family from the humiliation of his extramarital affair? Or a man hellbent on becoming the next president at any cost?
These were the opening arguments that were set forth in the first day of the John Edwards criminal trial on charges that he violated campaign finance laws.
The former presidential candidate is accused of accepting more than $900,000 from benefactors to pay for expenses of his mistress and hide the affair from his family — revelations that could have derailed his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Andrew Young, the onetime trusted Edwards aide who is now the prosecution’s chief witness, began testimony Monday in a packed courtroom, talking about his close relationship with Edwards, his first suspicions of Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer, and his meetings with an elderly heiress who he said offered to do all she could to help elect Edwards president. Young is expected to be on the witness stand for much of today, and we will be updating this post at the end of proceedings.
A jury will decide whether nearly $1 million paid by Edwards benefactors Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 101-year-old banking heiress from Virginia, and Fred Baron, a now-deceased Texas lawyer, to cover Hunter’s living and travel expenses were illegal campaign contributions or gifts to help a friend deal with a personal problem.
“If the affair went public, it would destroy any chance he had to be president, and he knew it,” Justice Department lawyer David V. Harbach II said in his opening statement. Edwards’ response to possible disclosure of the affair, he added, was “deny, deceit and manipulation.”
Meanwhile, Politico have put together a comprehensive list of the key dates in Edwards sordid tale.
Oct. 10, 2007: The National Enquirer publishes its first report on Edwards’s affair but doesn’t release the name of the woman. Edwards’s spokesperson says the allegations are “false, absolute nonsense.”
Oct. 11, 2007: “The story is false. It’s completely untrue, ridiculous,” Edwards tells reporters.
Oct. 22, 2007: Edwards has been having an affair with his campaign staff videographer, Rielle Hunter, the Enquirer reports.
Dec. 12, 2007: A pregnant Hunter tells the Enquirer that Andrew Young, a longtime Edwards aide, is the father of the baby. “This has no relationship to nor does it involve John Edwards in any way,” Rielle says.
Dec. 31, 2007: The Enquirer reports that there is a massive coverup taking place to protect the former senator.
Jan. 30, 2008: Edwards drops out of the race.
July 22, 2008: The Enquirer catches Edwards trying to leave the Beverly Hilton at 2:40 a.m. after visiting Hunter and their daughter.
July 23, 2008: “I don’t talk about these tabloids. They’re tabloid trash and just full of lies,” Edwards tells reporters in Houston.
Aug. 8, 2008: Edwards admits to the affair, telling ABC News’s Bob Woodruff that his political success “fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.” But he denies again that the baby is his.
Aug. 6, 2009: Hunter testifies before a grand jury about her relationship with Edwards.
Jan. 21, 2010: Edwards owns up to being the father of Hunter’s daughter. “It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter, and, hopefully, one day, when she understands, she will forgive me,” he said in a statement.
Jan. 27, 2010: Reports emerge that Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, have separated.
Jan. 28, 2010: Young tells ABC’s Bob Woodruff that he has a sex tape Edwards and Hunter made a few months before the Iowa caucuses.
Dec. 7, 2010: Elizabeth Edwards dies after battling cancer.
June 3, 2011: Edwards is indicted on six federal felony charges, including conspiring to violate campaign finance laws.
Feb. 23, 2012: The civil case between Hunter and Young is settled, with Hunter declared the owner of the sex tape, which the court orders to be destroyed.
April 23, 2012: After a number of delays, including one due to a “life-threatening” medical condition, Edwards’s trial begins.