|Prosecution Rests After Presenting Video of Edwards’s Lies About His Affair By KIM SEVERSON Published: May 10, 2012 |
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Prosecutors rested their case against former Senator John Edwards on Thursday, offering as their last piece of evidence a national television interview he did in 2008 in which he denied much about the affair that ultimately brought him to the federal courtroom here.
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Watching Mr. Edwards watch himself lie was the most electric moment yet in a three-week trial that has been relatively light on federal campaign law and heavy on dramatic narrative.
Mr. Edwards, 58, faces six counts of conspiracy and violating campaign laws. The Department of Justice contends he illegally used at least $925,000 in money from two wealthy donors to hide his mistress and their child as he pursued the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The actual amount spent keeping the affair from his family and the public is well over a million dollars, but the government is focusing only on money spent until he suspended his campaign at the end of January 2008.
The affair had begun a couple of years earlier, but remained largely a rumor. The National Enquirer ran an article in October 2007 about the affair that was ignored by other news media. But when it published a photograph of Mr. Edwards holding his baby in a Beverly Hills hotel, the story took on a new life.
Instead of admitting it, Mr. Edwards allowed an aide to claim paternity. The aide, Andrew Young, then took his own family and Mr. Edwards’s pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, on the run, eventually ending up renting a mansion for about $20,000 a month in Santa Barbara, Calif. The baby, Frances Quinn Hunter, was born in February 2008, a month after Mr. Edwards suspended his run for the presidency. As the race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama progressed, Mr. Edwards still held out hope for a position as attorney general or eventually as a Supreme Court justice.
By that August, with the Democratic National Convention weeks away, he thought he could make the story go away by confessing to a brief affair but deny that the baby, at that point 6 months old, was his.
So he asked Jennifer Palmieri, his former press secretary and a close friend of his wife, Elizabeth, to help arrange an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline” with the reporter Bob Woodruff, who has attended the trial nearly every day.
Mr. Edwards was going to use a “thread the needle” strategy, said Ms. Palmieri, who is now a deputy director of communications for the White House.
That is, he would confess to a brief affair and claim that it was over and that he and his wife had reconciled. He would deny both that the baby was his and that he arranged to pay to support Ms. Hunter.
Ms. Palmieri advised him against it. She had come to believe the baby was his.
“I told him I didn’t think he should do an interview if he was going to lie,” she told the court. “He didn’t need any more press attention at this point.”
She knew his political career was essentially over, she testified Wednesday.“He was deluded for thinking otherwise,” she said.
Still, he went ahead with the interview. It played for nearly 20 minutes on screens around the courtroom, including one on the defense table directly in front of him.
Mr. Edwards watched a younger, happier-looking version of himself sitting forward in a chair in his Chapel Hill home, taking question after question.
Was the affair over? “Oh, yes. It’s been over for a long time.” Is that your baby? “That is absolutely not true.”
Two weeks earlier, he had been photographed at the Beverly Hills Hilton holding Quinn. But in the interview, he claimed no knowledge of who the baby was or where the photo had come from.
The short affair happened when his wife’s cancer was in remission, he said, and was the result of narcissism and the conflicts that come from rising so high after growing up as a small-town boy with humble roots.
Mr. Edwards, whose wife died in 2010, watched himself assert repeatedly that he never spent money supporting his former mistress and her child.
“If the allegation is that somehow I participated in the payment of money, that is a lie,” he said. He said he would take a paternity test if asked.
“One of the purposes of this interview, Bob, is to tell the truth,” he said.
As the video ran, Mr. Edwards’s reaction was muted. He closed his eyes now and again, and sometimes touched his fingertips to his lips. When it was over and court was adjourned, his lawyer clapped him on the shoulder. Mr. Edwards laughed.
He and his defense team appear confident that he will not be convicted, and that he will escape up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
At the close of court on Wednesday, with the prosecution nearing the end of its case, Mr. Edwards turned to the head of his defense team, Abbe Lowell, and said, “This is their case?”
On Friday, his lawyers will ask Judge Catherine C. Eagles to dismiss the charges, claiming the government has not presented a strong enough case against him to go to the jury.
If she denies their motion, Mr. Edwards’s defense will begin Monday. Whether Mr. Edwards will testify in his own defense remains unclear.