John Edwards' attorneys question wife of ex-aide

May 1, 2012 - 7:39 PM
Edwards Trial

Cheri Young, right, is escorted out of the Federal Courthouse in Greensboro, N.C. on Monday, April 30, 2012, after testifying in the John Edwards trial. Young, the wife of an ex-aide to John Edwards broke down on the witness stand Monday as she recounted how the candidate asked the couple to hide an affair he was having and justified using wealthy donors’ money to do it. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Shawn Rocco)

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The wife of a former aide to John Edwards rebuffed questions Tuesday about whether she had any incentive to lie to hurt the former presidential candidate.

"Sir, I'm here to tell the truth about my experiences, about my life," Cheri Young said in response to one of Edwards' defense lawyers. "It was a lie when we accepted paternity for your client and that is why we are here today."

Her husband, Andrew Young, was among Edwards' closest aides in 2007, when the couple became embroiled in a year-long effort to cover up the former U.S. senator's extramarital affair and the pregnancy that resulted from it.

Both Youngs have testified at Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial that the candidate asked Andrew to issue a statement falsely claiming paternity of the child Edwards fathered with his mistress, Rielle Hunter. At the time, Edwards was a top-tier presidential candidate and it was just weeks away from the crucial Iowa caucuses.

In his cross examination of Cheri Young, Edwards defense lawyer Alan Duncan suggested the couple made a lot of money from the scandal.

They kept about $1 million secretly provided by two wealthy campaign supporters while the couple helped hide and care for the pregnant mistress. The Youngs also made hundreds of thousands of dollars from Andrew Young's 2010 tell-all book about the affair and by selling the movie rights to their story.

Cheri Young agreed they had made money through the cover-up she said was initiated by her husband's boss.

"Income, yeah, I'll take income," she said. "That's reasonable."

But Young also reiterated again and again that Edwards' lies prompted them to go public. She said Edwards promised to admit the baby was his after Hunter gave birth in February 2008 but instead went on national television to lie about the affair, even after tabloid reporters photographed him with the mistress and his baby that summer.

"I came here because I had to come here," said Young, who testified because of a subpoena. "The only reason my husband had to write the book is because Mr. Edwards did not come forward and tell the truth."

After years of adamant public denials, Edwards acknowledged paternity of Hunter's daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, days before the release of Andrew Young's book in 2010. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign-finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.

At issue are payments from a wealthy Texas lawyer, Fred Baron, who served as Edwards' campaign-finance chairman, and an elderly heiress, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. Andrew Young, who testified last week under an immunity agreement, has acknowledged that he kept about $1 million of $1.2 million in payments from the two campaign supporters.

Earlier on Tuesday, Duncan questioned Young about her chronic migraine headaches, and her husband's prescription sleep medication and drinking. Duncan was trying to convince the jury the couple had problems with their memory.

Young, a pediatric nurse, conceded her husband sometimes drank too much years ago. She said she didn't know whether her husband ever took Ambien while consuming alcohol or the potential side effects.

"I don't watch him take his medication, sir," Young replied.

During his testimony, Andrew Young often admitted under a withering cross-examination he couldn't recall the specific dates of events or the sequence in which things occurred, only for his recollections to become more detailed when redirected by a prosecutor.

Under cross examination from Edwards' lawyer this week, Cheri Young rarely gave Duncan an inch, counter-punching his questions with questions of her own or deflecting attempts to impugn her credibility by making statements painting Edwards as the liar.

Her verbal sparring style slowed the defense's questioning to a crawl, contributing to the session becoming so tedious that even the judge lost patience, ordering Duncan from the bench to move on.

At the end of the day, the defense showed a tape that Cheri Young filmed inside the $2,700-a-month rental home near Chapel Hill that was leased for Edwards' pregnant mistress while she was hiding from tabloid reporters during the fall of 2007. The house was a short drive from Edwards' sprawling estate, a location the Youngs testified was chosen so the married presidential candidate could conveniently visit his lover.

The video was filmed in September 2008, after the Youngs returned to North Carolina from spending much of the preceding nine months on the run with their three children, Hunter and Edwards' baby.

The view, played on big screen monitors for the jury, showed the house's sparsely furnished interior, including the mistress' puffy bed and a collection of eastern religious idols and crystals. There was also a book on reading rune cards intended to help the user divine the future.

The screen panned over a handwritten list of possible baby names and their meanings in various languages and notes containing the birthdates of famous Hollywood celebrities. Photos of Hunter at various stages of her life were splayed on the kitchen counter, as was a yellowed newspaper clipping with photo of a smiling debutant and her original name, Lisa Jo Druck.

Young also taped the mistress' California driver's license and a business card with the name Rielle Hunter and the phrase "Being is Free," printed over a pink heart.

Duncan suggested the Youngs had made the video as part of a scheme to extort money from Edwards, who was then still denying the affair.

Cheri Young replied that she made the tape to help document what her family had been through as a result of Edwards' affair.

"This was proof that there really was a Rielle Hunter," she said.

___

Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck