I’m pretty sure that, if a Hollywood film producer read a screenplay based on the news articles about the John Edwards trial, he’d toss them aside, scoff, look at the screenwriter and say, “Ya gotta gimme something plausible, kid. Nobody’s gonna believe that tripe.”
This, by the way, will have been the same guy who produced Alien Vs. Predator and Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
We’re four days into this trial, in which John Edwards is accused of improperly using nearly a million dollars in campaign funds as hush money to keep his babymama away from the press while he ran for president in 2007/8 (unofficial charge: being The Worst Man In the World*). The defense contends that it wasn’t campaign money, it was gifted for the candidate’s personal use, was intended to hide the affair and child from Edwards’ wife, not influence the campaign, and therefore was not illegal. (Claims as to the ethical and moral rightness of the scheme have not been made in court.) For four days, the court has been listening to the testimony of Andrew Young. Andrew Young is the former campaign aide who agreed to pretend to be the father of John Edwards’ mistress’s baby, and agreed to live with her and his own wife in a cross-country, fugitive-like, months-long run, for the purposes of hiding the affair and pregnancy.
Now, I read Game Change, so I did already know about Andrew Young, and I already could not believe the way the whole thing went down. But wow, I didn’t know the half of it. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann were holding out.
The scene: June 2007. The presidential primary is in full swing and Edwards is performing well. He appears to be a loving family man, married to a chubby but cute woman whose late-in-life children came after the heartbreak of their teenaged son’s death in a car crash. But his wife’s breast cancer has returned, and his mistress, campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, has just threatened to expose him to the media as a liar and a cheat. Now, she reveals she is pregnant.
She’s a crazy slut. There’s a 1-in-3 chance that baby is mine.
What do you want to do?
…Take care of it.
See, it’s not that Edwards was wrong when he called Rielle Hunter a crazy slut. Factually, it was probably true. But it’s no way to treat a lady you’re banging on the road to the White House while you’re wife’s having chemo. Yet, unlike The Ides of March, Young doesn’t go rogue and decide to “take care of it” by using a campaign slush fund to pay for an abortion without telling the candidate that’s what he’s doing. As we’re about to learn… that? Would have been the less insane approach. Like, by far.
Instead, what happens, according to Young, is that Edwards devises a plan to get two ridiculously wealthy campaign supporters named Fred Baron and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon (I did not make those names up) to fork over lots and lots of greenbacks for the sake of keeping Rielle Hunter quiet and far, far away from cameras and microphones. Bunny Mellon (of The Mellons, Carnegie and otherwise), who is currently literally eleventy-two years old, agrees to spend $1.2 million over time for what she understands to be “personal needs” for the candidate.
I don’t know if this is legal.
I’ve talked to several experts in campaign finance laws. It’s legal.
By law, individuals are only allowed to contribute $2,300 to a campaign in a given election cycle. Bunny knows these funds are for “personal needs,” not intended to be used for the campaign, but one wonders: if it’s so legal, why does she write the checks to her interior decorator for $75,000 at a time? The decorator then endorses the checks and sends them to Andrew and Cheri Young.
(Um, hello? Decorator? You are an idiot. Take the money and run!)
So we suspend our disbelief and the decorator follows the plan. The Youngs (oh, yes, Andrew’s wife is in on this) are supposed to use the money to keep Rielle away from Edwards most of the time, though now the defense says the Youngs siphoned off most of the money to pay for the construction of their $1.5 million home. Edwards tells them to give Hunter an allowance between $5,000 and $12,000 per month so she can travel and meet up with him when his wife’s not around. And merrily we roll along, debating a President Edwards.
The scene: December 2007. HUNTER is now in her third trimester, living in a rented home in Chapel Hill. But a tabloid has tracked HUNTER down in a grocery store parking lot. The media pick up the scent: EDWARDS’ one-time campaign videographer is single… and pregnant.
I have an idea. Andrew, you can say that you’re the baby’s father.
We need to give the media something they’ll understand. An affair between two staffers.
Andrew, this is bigger than all of us. I want to get the military out of Iraq. I want to help remake healthcare. And… I don’t want Elizabeth to have to deal with this before she dies.
The Youngs and a pregnant Hunter accept arrangements from Fred Baron, who is
… wait for it…
the Edwards campaign’s finance director…
to go live in a house in California together like some effed up reality show without cameras. Young publicly claims to be Hunter’s baby’s father, despite his marriage. And then they head out on the run, trying to evade the media. Baron spends $183,000 of his own money for Hunter’s care. He sends Young overnight packages stuffed with cold, hard cash so the money can’t be traced. Edwards is careful to tell Young not to ever let Edwards know exactly where they are.
I don’t want to have to lie if somebody asks me.
Edwards and Hunter continue to talk, with Edwards borrowing staffers’ cell phones to call her so that the number doesn’t show up on the Edwards family phone bill. Eventually, he gets a separate phone, unbeknownst to his wife. He and Hunter call it “The Bat Phone.”
Possibly as in batsh*t crazy.
The scene: June 2008. YOUNG is growing increasingly frustrated. EDWARDS had told him back in December that he would come out as the baby’s father as soon as the election was over. He dropped out of the race in January and then stopped taking YOUNG’s calls. HUNTER’s daughter, Frances Quinn, was born in February. HUNTER and baby still live with the YOUNGS. And still, EDWARDS is denying paternity, though he has admitted to the affair. In May, EDWARDS had gone to MELLON asking her for $50 million to establish an anti-poverty foundation, but he was intercepted by MELLON’s lawyer and accountant, who asked him about all the checks Mellon has been writing to her interior decorator for purposes of supporting EDWARDS off the record. The anti-poverty foundation idea is, not surprisingly, nixed. YOUNG, who can only get to EDWARDS through intermediaries now, had confronted BARON with four demands: that EDWARDS fess up to being the father; that he reveal his longterm plans, that the YOUNGS stop living with HUNTER and her child, and that EDWARDS meet with YOUNG face-to-face. The two former friends met in a hotel room near Washington in mid-June, where EDWARDS asked YOUNG to keep the secret a little longer. The men nearly come to blows, but EDWARDS charms his friend.
I love you, Andrew. And I know you know that I would never abandon you.
Not even kidding. Later, on cross-examination, a defense attorney would ask Young: “Did you fall in love with John Edwards?” To which Young would reply, “A lot of people did.” He would admit that he wanted to be best friends with a president, that power was the lure that made him say yes to all these deals.
The scene: August 2008. EDWARDS and YOUNG are meeting near the Edwards home in Chapel Hill. YOUNG arrives to find EDWARDS sitting nervously in a borrowed black Suburban. He motions for YOUNG to follow him and drives erratically along backcountry roads before stopping on a dead-end path and beckoning YOUNG to get into the Suburban.
Holy crap, y’all.
What is this I’m hearing about checks Bunny Mellon wrote? Do you know about this?
YOUNG (astonished… thinking there must be a recording device somewhere):
No, I didn’t know about that.
EDWARDS seems anxious. He is sweating. YOUNG snaps.
I have evidence of everything that’s happened over the last year, John. I’ll go public!
EDWARDS (getting out of the Suburban):
You can’t hurt me, Andrew. You can’t hurt me.
It was the last time the two men spoke. But this week in a Greensboro courtroom, prosecutors played recordings of voicemails between Edwards and Young dating back to 2007. The prosecutor asked Young why he had kept these messages, and notes he’d made.
“If I didn’t have these,” Young answered, “Nobody would have believed me.”
*who hasn’t killed anybody. That we know of. Yet.