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Testimony In John Edwards' Trial Gets Personal


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The federal corruption trial of John Edwards continued this week in Greensboro, North Carolina. Government witnesses painted an ugly portrait of the former senator and presidential candidate. But the prosecution may have been less successful in making the case that he deliberately violated campaign finance law. North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii was in the courtroom.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: A handsome, wealthy man cheating on his wife of 30 years while she's dying of cancer, and he's running for president of the United States. That's where it begins. Despite the testimony clearly depicting Edwards as a terrible husband and selfish candidate, several government witnesses demonstrated this week a lingering affection for their former boss. One former staffer, John Davis, was asked by the defense: Did you like him? His response: Yes, and I still do.

STEVEN FRIEDLAND: Prosecution witnesses are showing that they still like John Edwards, and there was a reason they supported him. They're painting him favorably.

TIBERII: Elon University law professor Steven Friedland is observing the case. This trial is about alleged campaign finance violations by a millionaire politician, seeking millions from his associates to hide the expenses of his pregnant girlfriend from his wife. Edwards denies ever breaking the law. He says the money was a personal gift, and not a campaign contribution.

HAMPTON DELLINGER: The problem for John Edwards is that the Federal Election Campaign Act is broadly written.

TIBERII: That's Hampton Dellinger, a lawyer who used to teach campaign election law at Duke University.

DELLINGER: It says anything of value that is given for the purpose of influencing an election is considered, under federal law, to be a campaign donation.

TIBERII: In a small, windowless, Greensboro federal courtroom, the prosecution is making its case against Edwards. Gut-wrenching testimony came on Wednesday, and it was intensely personal. Cate Edwards, daughter of John, is a 30-year-old lawyer who sits behind her father in court most days. That afternoon, she looked at her father, with tears already welling up in her eyes. I don't know what they're going to do, John Edwards said. Do you want to leave? Cate was halfway out the door before testimony about her father's infidelity could resume.

Former campaign staffer Christina Reynolds described a distraught Elizabeth Edwards collapsing into a ball on the ground at a private airplane hangar, after finding out her husband was still having an affair. The story continued. Elizabeth, already diagnosed with breast cancer, yelled at her husband: You don't see me anymore! She ripped off her shirt and bra. The courtroom fell silent. The former presidential candidate rubbed the bridge of his nose with two fingers. His cheeks were crimson.

To date, no evidence has directly linked Edwards to what the government describes as illegal campaign contributions. Edwards didn't write any checks, and none were made out or sent to him. The woman who provided most of the money is 101-year-old Bunny Mellon. Others have testified that Edwards reminded Bunny of Robert Kennedy. and Bunny developed a crush.

All the personal details nearly overshadowed a significant legal moment this past Thursday. A former aide testified under cross-examination that in 2007, Edwards nearly signed an affidavit for the National Enquirer denying ever having an affair. Prosecution witness Mark Kornblau said that the tabloid paper was strongly considering not running a story about Edwards' infidelity if the candidate provided a sworn statement. Ultimately, Edwards wouldn't sign it. Again, professor Friedland.

FRIEDLAND: There was a certain line he wouldn't cross, and that while he was lying to staff and lying to the public, he did not want to commit a crime.

TIBERII: Law experts say the defense has effectively questioned the credibility of Andrew Young, the prosecution's key witness who testified last week. Rielle Hunter, the mistress, is due in court next week.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Greensboro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.