(GREENSBORO, N.C.) — When the National Enquirer broke a story that presidential candidate John Edwards was having an affair, Edwards’ campaign was worried by mistress Rielle Hunter’s initial reluctance to issue a denial. Instead, she wanted to put out a flip statement that she was “abducted by aliens.”
The Enquirer‘s story triggered an emotional meltdown by Edwards’ wife Elizabeth, who was coping with terminal cancer at the time of the revelation in October 2007.
She confronted her husband in an airport parking lot, collapsing into a heap, then tearing off her shirt and bra.
That testimony sent daughter Cate Edwards out of the courtroom in tears and riveted those who remained Wednesday.
But the subtler part of the testimony was apparently to show that Edwards’ campaign was involved in the affair.
Edwards is charged with violating campaign finance laws by using more than $1 million from wealthy donors to hide his pregnant girlfriend. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Part of Edwards’ defense is that he used the money to hide the affair from his wife, which may be a sin, but not a crime.
Christina Reynolds, former research director for Edwards campaign, told the court Wednesday that after the Enquirer story came out the campaign had a conversation with Hunter about issuing a denial.
Hunter’s response, Reynolds said, was that she wanted to release a flip comment that she had been “abducted by aliens.”
“My concern was that if (she) was hedging on issuing a straight denial, we wouldn’t know what she would do,” Reynolds testified.
The prosecutor asked what would have happened if the story had grown, and Reynolds replied, “I don’t think it would have been good. I think it would have been very bad for the campaign.”
Hunter eventually issued a denial without mentioning aliens.
Previous witnesses, John and Cheri Young, have testified that they were assigned to keep Hunter hidden while Edwards pursued the Democratic presidential nomination. The cover-up continued after he dropped out, they claim, because he was angling for a top job like vice president or attorney general.
Campaign scheduler Matthew Nelson recounted on Wednesday first meeting Hunter in late June 2006 when he was instructed to pick her up and bring her to Edwards’ house. Nelson, Hunter and Edwards then flew together to Raleigh-Durham under the pretense that Edwards was interviewing Hunter for a job.
While in the house, Edwards feigned ignorance of who Hunter was, asking Nelson in a “whispered tone… who the woman is in the neighboring room.”
They later attended a Dave Matthews Band concert and flew to Washington, D.C. together, Nelson testified.
Nelson also told the court of being asked to set up a meeting with wealthy philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon who gave $725,000 to Edwards’ hush fund.
Another Edwards’ campaign aide Josh Brumberger also testified about attending a meeting with Edwards at Mellon’s home as they courted her for funding.
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