GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – John Edwards’ daughter left the courtroom crying during testimony on Wednesday about a confrontation between her father and deceased mother over the onetime presidential candidate’s extramarital affair.
Former Edwards aide Christina Reynolds was testifying about an argument Elizabeth Edwards had with her husband on the day in October 2007 that a tabloid published a story about his affair. As Reynolds was beginning the account about what happened at the Raleigh airport, Edwards turned to his daughter Cate, who was seated in the front row.
“I don’t know what’s coming; do you want to leave?” Edwards was heard asking.
She responded inaudibly to him, then walked away wiping tears. Edwards was heard saying, “Cate, Cate” as she walked out. Cate Edwards later returned to court after a recess.
Wednesday’s hearing at the campaign finance corruption trial also included an account from another aide who testified that he repeatedly voiced concerns about the mistress, Rielle Hunter, and later left the Edwards staff after an expletive-laced dressing down from the candidate. The mistress would later have Edwards’ child.
But the most stirring testimony came from Reynolds, the candidate’s onetime communications adviser who was also a confidante of Elizabeth Edwards. Reynolds recently joined the board of the educational foundation named for Elizabeth Edwards, who died in December of 2010 after a years-long fight with cancer.
Reynolds told the court that Elizabeth Edwards asked her over to the family’s Chapel Hill home in the summer of 2007 and revealed that her husband had confessed to an affair the previous year. The two women had bonded because they had similar backgrounds in military families.
The following October, Reynolds testified, she observed a very upset Elizabeth Edwards confront her husband at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on the morning that The National Enquirer published a story about the affair. She stormed off and then collapsed in the parking lot, Reynolds said, and the aide and another staff member helped her into the bathroom of a private hangar.
After collecting herself, Elizabeth Edwards came back into the hangar, found her husband and began yelling. She then pulled off her shirt and bra, leaving herself bare-chested, Reynolds said.
“You don’t see me any more,” Reynolds quoted the wife as saying.
Reynolds said Edwards didn’t show emotion, but that he called his wife’s doctor and asked for help.
Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign-finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.
At issue are payments from wealthy donors that were used to keep Hunter and the baby out of public view. Edwards’ attorneys have said he didn’t know it was being used to hide her.
Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard from another aide whose testimony is a key part of prosecutors’ efforts to establish a timeline of the affair and Edwards’ efforts to cover it up. Josh Brumberger discussed topics ranging from the night the candidate met his mistress to how he charmed the wealthy donor whose money would be used to cover up the affair.
Brumberger, now 33, was having drinks with Edwards in the bar of an upscale New York hotel in February 2006 when they were first approached by Hunter. Brumberger frequently traveled with Edwards and said it was not unusual for strange women to come up to him. The former aide said he politely helped extricate the candidate from the conversation.
Sometime later, Brumberger saw Edwards returning alone from dinner and surrounded by a group of women that included Hunter. He ran outside to once again politely get his boss out of the conversation.
“My normal bag of tricks included ‘Got a big day tomorrow, got to rest’” he recalled.
Weeks later, Brumberger said, the woman began traveling with Edwards to film behind-the-scenes footage. At the time, Edwards had yet to declare his candidacy.
Brumberger couldn’t place her at first, but within days he realized that she was the woman from the hotel. Hunter was paid through a political action committee supporting Edwards.
“It was a cause of concern,” the former aide testified.
Brumberger said his misgivings grew after Hunter demanded to travel with Edwards on private jets, rather than commercial flights like other staff and consultants.
“Ms. Hunter felt she pretty much had an all-access pass to everything,” he said. “I disagreed.”
Brumberger said he attempted to bar Hunter from the flights, but the candidate overruled him.
Edwards also ordered Brumberger to make sure the PAC paid for Hunter’s health insurance, unheard-of for a consultant not on the full-time staff. Concerns were also raised among senior staff that Hunter didn’t appear to know much about shooting video. Tapes filmed by Hunter played for the jury showed shaky camera work where those speaking were sometimes not in focus or not in the frame at all.
“It was shoddy and unprofessional,” Brumberger said.
Brumberger also described accompanying Edwards on his first trip to the Virginia estate of donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in December 2005. The visit unfolded pleasantly with her recounting her visits to the Kennedy White House, where she helped plant the rose garden.
Soon after, the wealthy heiress made the first in a series of substantial donations to Edwards’ political committees and his anti-poverty foundation that would eventually total more than $6 million.
Prosecutors said Edwards used money from Mellon, who’s now 101, and another wealthy donor to hide the mistress. Edwards’ attorneys have said he didn’t know it was being used to hide her and that another former aide, Andrew Young, spent much of it on his dream house.
Brumberger described how Edwards and his associates made efforts to stay in touch with Mellon, including calling on her birthday and sending flowers. Brumberger said that it was typical for Edwards to have “call time” with major donors.
Months after the first meeting with Mellon, Brumberger was traveling with Edwards when he called her on her birthday from North Dakota. Brumberger sent Young – a key adviser – an email that it had gone well.
“JRE called. Bunny is still in LOVE,” Brumberger wrote in the email, referring to Edwards by his initials.
After the email was displayed in court on Wednesday, prosecutors asked Brumberger what it meant.
“I believe what I meant by that is Ms. Mellon was still supportive of Mr. Edwards’s causes,” Brumberger testified to laughter in the courtroom.
Prosecutors have said Mellon offered under-the-table cash to cover Edwards’ personal expenses after the candidate was embarrassed by media reports that campaign funds were used to pay for $400 haircuts.
Weeks later, Hunter informed the candidate she was pregnant. According to the account in Young’s 2010 tell-all book about the affair, Edwards was unable to access his own money to support Hunter without his wife, Elizabeth, finding out. So, Young says, Edwards decided to take Mellon up on her offer.
For most of 2006, Hunter traveled with Edwards for months to meetings across the country, as well as on an overseas trip to Africa.
Concerned about the affair, Brumberger said he twice tried confronting his boss. After Edwards made no effort to send Hunter away, Brumberger said he talked to two senior staff members.
Edwards learned of the meeting and confronted Brumberger in a private lounge at the Chicago airport just before the Africa trip.
Using expletives, Edwards began yelling and his face turned red.
“He said he couldn’t trust me anymore,” Brumberger recounted. Edwards informed the aide that he might be fired.
Brumberger said he quit, instead.
“I told Mr. Edwards I was no longer interested in working for him,” Brumberger said. “I was kind of in shock.”