Records Show Edwards Paid Mistress $9,000 A Month
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
To North Carolina now and the ongoing trial of John Edwards. The former presidential candidate, vice presidential nominee, onetime rising star of the Democratic Party has listened to difficult testimony over the past few weeks. Edwards is accused of accepting almost a million dollars in secret payments in 2008 to cover up an affair with a campaign worker, Rielle Hunter, who bore his child. Jeff Tiberii, of North Carolina Public Radio, has been in court since the beginning of the trial, and he joins us from Greensboro. And, Jeff, the prosecution has rested. The defense this week started presenting its case. There was speculation that today John Edwards' daughter, Cate, would take the stand. Did that happen?
JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: It did not, Melissa. She didn't take the stand, but the defense did indicate that she could be called to provide testimony tomorrow.
BLOCK: And what would the strategy there be? What would she be expected to say?
TIBERII: Well, one of the stand points of the defense is that John Edwards didn't break campaign finance law, and they are trying to say that he was hiding this affair, hiding his mistress from his family. They would call on Cate to humanize her father, so to speak, and also to really demonstrate that this wasn't about political gain, that he was, in fact, involved in this process - if he was involved in this process - to hide his family from finding out about the affair.
We've seen Cate in court every day, so it could be interesting for the jury to see her on the stand. She comes in every day with her elderly grandparents - John's parents - and has almost taken on symbolically some of these matriarch roles after, of course, her mother, Elizabeth, passed away a couple of years ago.
BLOCK: And Cate, like her father, is a lawyer. The prosecution had 14 days of calling witnesses. Based on the witnesses that have been called so far for the defense, what are they gunning for? What's their strategy here?
TIBERII: Their main strategy is that this was not a political - these were not a series of political campaign contributions. The defense is that these were personal gifts. These are personal gifts from two wealthy donors that were meant to help Senator Edwards, the candidate at the time, kind of hide this tawdry and salacious storyline about him cheating on his sick wife and having this child with a mistress. So the defense is to portray this as not a campaign contribution but, in fact, a personal gift. They've also done a very good job in cross-examination and now with the defense's own witnesses, really attacking the prosecution's star witness, Andrew Young, who is a key point in their case.
BLOCK: And, Jeff, what does the government need to prove if it is to get a conviction of John Edwards on these charges?
TIBERII: Melissa, this is a tough statute in that the government has to show that John Edwards knowingly and willingly broke the law. So it's not necessarily, as one former federal prosecutor told me, like a speeding violation or like a manslaughter charge. They have to show that he explicitly knew what he was doing and chose to break the law, did this cover-up knowing that he was breaking federal campaign finance law. And it's an important note that of the 24 witnesses that the prosecution called, none of them explicitly said, yes, he knew what he was doing, and he chose to move forward with it anyway.
BLOCK: We know there's been a lot of wrenching testimony over the last couple of weeks about John Edwards' infidelity, about how trying this ordeal was on his family, in particular his late wife, Elizabeth Edwards. How much discussion has there been about these charges that John Edwards is facing: violating campaign finance laws and covering it up?
TIBERII: You know, the prosecution ended with an interview from 2008. They showed a "Nightline" interview with John Edwards talking and really lying on camera about the affair, the mistress, the child that he had. The prosecution didn't spend all that much time on campaign finance violations. The defense is really trying to hone in on it and show - talk about different limits and talk about the fact that this money - the money that came from these two wealthy donors - never actually touched Edwards, so to speak. The checks didn't come from his accounts. They didn't go through him. And the defense is really trying to make them comfortable - make the jury comfortable with understanding some of this campaign finance knowledge.
BLOCK: And, Jeff, one big question still hanging out there: Is John Edwards going to testify in his own defense? What are you hearing?
TIBERII: This is a man who made his career convincing juries as a very successful trial attorney, and there are some that believe he absolutely will testify, but others say he simply can't do it. The target on his back would be too big, and the prosecution could really go after him. So it remains kind of a split opinion at the courthouse.
BLOCK: OK, Jeff Tiberii with North Carolina Public Radio, he spoke with us from Greensboro, where he's covering the trial of John Edwards.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.