Attorney: Donor Knew Money Wasn’t for Edwards’ Campaign

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Adam Reiss, Joe Johns and Ted Metzger, CNN, Reporting

GREENSBORO, North Carolina — The attorney for a 101-year-old billionaire donor, whose money is at the center of John Edwards’ corruption trial, told jurors Monday that his client knew the hundreds of thousands of dollars she gave the former U.S. presidential candidate was not a campaign contribution.

Alex Forger said his client, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, “liked John Edwards as an individual” and supported him, giving the ex-senator $725,000.

But he said Mellon had “no doubt” that not all of her contributions were for his political campaign, strengthening Edwards’ position that Mellon was not only supporting him in his effort to get elected, but in other endeavors as well.

Mellon’s donations, at least in part, were used to try to conceal the former senator’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he later admitted to having an affair and fathering a child with while seeking the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination.

Prosecutors say Edwards used the donor funds to hide Hunter and their daughter in an effort to keep his candidacy viable. That would be a violation of campaign finance laws, they say, because the money would have been considered an illegal campaign contribution used to prevent a politically damaging situation from being unearthed.

Edwards broke federal law, they allege, by accepting Mellon’s money for that purpose and more than $200,000 from the late Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer who was his finance chairman.

Edwards’ defense team has instead argued that Andrew Young, an Edwards aide, had largely used the money for his own personal gain while also paying for Hunter’s medical expenses during her pregnancy, to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife. Donations for that purpose, the Edwards team has argued, cannot be considered in violation of campaign finance laws.

Young admitted during questioning that he used some donations for his own personal benefit — particularly to fund construction of a home that included a pool and a theater.

Forger had earlier recalled in federal court in Greensboro, North Carolina, that he became aware of the situation in September 2007 when his client almost bounced a $150,000 check.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty. He could face up to 30 years behind bars if convicted.