(GREENSBORO, N.C.) — John Edwards intended to create a $50 million foundation for himself after losing his 2008 bid for the presidency and told a friend it would be a “chip shot” for elderly heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon to fund it for him.
“[Edwards] said he had a friend, Ms. Mellon, who was very wealthy,” testified Tim Toben, Edward’s onetime friend and supporter who helped keep secret Edwards’ pregnant mistress out of North Carolina.
It would be a “chip shot for her to endow the foundation” with $50 million, Toben said Edwards told him in June 2008 at a swank Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant.
Toben said Edwards’ boast that evening made him uncomfortable. He knew the truth about Edwards’ and his mistress. He said he even rummaged through her home, removing signed autographs reading “I love you, John,” which the senator had given her.
But the “chip shot” conversation would resonate with Toben a year later when he ran into Edwards on the street.
By then the world knew Edwards had cheated on his wife, and a top aide, Andrew Young, was getting ready to publish a book about the affair. Toben was also friends with Young.
“You need to choose between your friendship with Andrew and your friendship with me,” Edwards said, Toben told the court.
“Andrew had crossed a line. He was not somebody to be trusted,” Edwards said of Young, according to Toben’s testimony.
“And then he said something frustrating to me: That Andrew had tried to bilk Ms. Mellon out of $50 million…I don’t think he remembered a year earlier he told me it would be a ‘chip shot’ for her to fund the foundation. And it was the exact same number,” Toben said.
Edwards is on trial for allegedly using campaign donations to hide his mistress and her subsequent pregnancy. Much of that money came from Mellon. Edwards could be sentenced to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Edwards’ defense hinges on his argument that he never personally asked Mellon for any money and that Young acted on his own to solicit money.
Toben had a unique insider’s view of Edwards’s relationship with Hunter, joining them at a Dave Matthews concert and driving a pregnant Hunter to an airplane hanger at 4 a.m. to get her out of North Carolina and away from an increasingly suspicious press.
Earlier Monday, an assistant for Mellon told the court that just before his indictment last year Edwards asked the 101-year-old heiress for $3 million. That was in addition to $725,000 she had already given to Edwards for his hush fund and several million to Edwards’ presidential campaign, super PAC and a non-profit organization.
Tony Willis serves as Mellon’s personal librarian and custodian of her correspondence. Mellon asked Willis to send a letter she dictated responding to a plea by Edwards asking “her for some additional money to get him established,” he said.
“I understood her to say he asked for $3 million,” Willis said, but Mellon denied the request, saying “she couldn’t provide the money.”
Willis’ testimony about the letter was made after a defense objection and the jury was excused. Lawyers from both sides made impassioned pleas about whether or not the letter should be admitted into the record.
The prosecution is trying to prove that Edwards willfully, personally and routinely asked Mellon for money, bolstering its claim that Edwards knew about the $725,000 Mellon gave him over the course his campaign to win the presidency between 2006 and 2008. The letter is proof Edwards “alone went to Mrs. Mellon and [tried] to get $3 million more,” argued prosecutor Robert Higdon.
The defense has argued that Edwards never asked Mellon for money directly, and any money requested by his aide Andrew Young was done in an attempt by Young to steal money from the wealthy heiress himself.
Edwards’ lawyers said the letter came years after the presidential campaign and the existence of his relationship with Rielle Hunter and their baby was acknowledged, and after Mellon had been questioned by the FBI. Defense lawyers argued the letter should not be admitted as evidence.
The judge upheld the objection and the jury was brought back after discussions of the letter had ended.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
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