GREENSBORO, N.C. — The wife of a former top aide to John Edwards testified at his federal corruption trial Monday that she had been reluctantly drawn into a web of deceit that she thought was necessary to maintain Edwards' chances of being elected president.
Cheri Young, the wife of Andrew Young, the former aide to and star witness against Edwards, was by turns tearful, angry and defiant as she spoke in detail about her complicity in trying to keep Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, out of public view.
Among the tasks she said she was assigned in the scheme was to deposit checks that sometimes reached six figures. The checks, which came from a pair of wealthy Edwards campaign donors and were used to pay for Hunter's living expenses, are a crucial element of the charges against Edwards.
He is accused of six counts of violating federal election finance laws during his 2008 presidential bid while trying to conceal his affair with Hunter, a campaign videographer. Government prosecutors contend that some $900,000 received from the two donors amounted to illegal campaign donations; Edwards says the money was a personal gift from friends.
If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Cheri Young said Monday that she had refused at first to deposit the checks unless she was told by Edwards himself that doing so was not a crime.
"I heard John Edwards tell me on the phone that he checked with the campaign lawyers and this was not a campaign donation and it was not illegal," Young told the court.
Young said that over time, she had come to play a more extensive role in trying to cover up the affair, even going along with Edwards' idea that Andrew Young claim publicly that he was the father of Hunter's baby — all out of fear of derailing Edwards' 2008 presidential bid.
Cheri Young said she had refused to go along when her husband first mentioned the scheme to her at a McDonald's restaurant.
"He told me that Mr. Edwards asked him to take responsibility for the baby," she said, as she broke down in tears, forcing jurors to be removed briefly from the courtroom. "My first thought was, 'How in the world could Mr. Edwards ask one more thing of me, of us?' I was mad. I was upset, of course. I said, 'Absolutely not.' I screamed at him, cursed at him."
Eventually, however, she agreed to save Edwards' campaign and protect her husband's job, she said.