GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The wife of John Edwards' former aide Andrew Young testified Monday that Edwards knew of the checks coming from his wealthy supporters and gave assurances that it would not violate campaign funding laws for her to deposit the money in the personal account she shared with her husband.
Cheri Young, testifying at the start of the second week of the Edwards trial, said she listened in on a phone call between the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate and her husband after she raised questions about funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Youngs' private bank account.
The money was intended to help cover up Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer who had become pregnant with Edwards' child.
Cheri Young testified that she balked at the idea at first. She knew campaign finance law limited how much a donor could give to any one candidate. Andrew Young was a fundraiser and had made many calls within her earshot asking someone to contribute more money because they had yet to hit the cap.
Her husband told her that Edwards wanted him to help hide a dark secret, and Young was asking his wife to help.
She thought what she was being asked to do might be illegal, so she insisted that her husband call Edwards. As she listened in, Cheri Young said, Edwards stated that he talked with campaign finance advisers and they told him what he was asking them to do was legal.
"I heard Mr. John Edwards tell me on the phone," Cheri Young said Monday morning, recounting the phone call. She said Edwards ended the conversation with: "Get the money in."
Cheri Young, on Monday, answered questions concisely, but her tone wavered. She showed frustration with Edwards and his wife Elizabeth and an indignant incredulity that she had been asked to take part in this plan. As she recounted her role, she told a wife's story that ranged from sad to amusing to bewildering.
More than once, she broke down in tears, most times quickly collecting herself. Once, though, Judge Catherine Eagles sent the jury out of the courtroom for a few minutes after Cheri Young was able to quickly compose herself.
Cheri Young occasionally drew laughs from the courtroom gallery while describing scenes with or about Hunter while they were moving about the country trying to hide Hunter from reporters.
One such incident was her description of eating in an Aspen, Colo., restaurant with her husband, their three children and Hunter.
Hunter had ordered a Reuben sandwich that came with a different dressing than the one she ordered. It was either Russian and supposed to be French, Cheri Young said, or French dressing and supposed to be Russian.
Hunter took a bite. Threw down the sandwich and immediately put in a long call to Bob McGovern, a spiritual adviser in California who received more than $8,000 from Hunter, to ask him to help her figure out what to do.
Hunter also insisted on a room change at an expensive Hollywood, Fla., hotel, exclaiming it didn't have the right "energy."
When asked by prosecutor Robert Higdon what Hunter meant by that, Cheri Young stated she had no idea.
Cheri Young, who wore a coral and white print dress, a cropped white sweater and a strand of pearls around her neck, is expected to be a witness for the prosecution most of Monday.
Defense attorneys had not cross-examined her before the lunch break.
Since the trial of Edwards, the 58-year-old former presidential hopeful began a week ago, Cheri Young has proven to be, perhaps, the most enigmatic of the four leading ladies linked to the case.
Why did she agree to help her husband hide Edwards' affair by depositing huge checks under her maiden name, many have wondered.
"Mr. Higdon," Cheri Young responded after the prosecutor asked her what she was thinking when her husband first approached her about the idea. "I cannot tell you how disgusted I was."
Andrew Young had become an employee for both John and Elizabeth Edwards who would do most anything, from running errands to agreeing to keep a secret about the extramarital affair. Cheri and Andrew Young had many fights about his helping the Edwards' family more than his own. But that was something Cheri Young stated over and over: "I let him do it."
Now she was being pulled in and she had doubts.
"Why me?" she said she asked.
Eventually she relented and deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Youngs' private bank account. If she didn't go along with the plan, she said, "I knew the campaign was going to fall to pieces, the campaign was going to be over."
Cheri Young testified that when she first learned that Hunter was coming to their home to live with her family for a brief time after an incident with National Enquirer reporters in New Jersey, she quickly cleaned the house, went out and bought groceries and new sheets.
"I had a presidential candidate's mistress coming to stay at my house, last minute," she said.
Hunter, Cheri Young recalled, showed up with a flourish, stopping in their entryway, then spinning in that spot while announcing, "I'm here."
There often was friction between Cheri Young and Hunter, Andrew Young testified last week.
Cheri Young broke down in tears when asked about conversations about her husband falsely claiming paternity for the child that Edwards fathered with Hunter.
She was livid at first when Andrew Young first broached the topic with her as they were buying a Happy Meal for their youngest child at a McDonald's in Chapel Hill. They had just been at a Pet Smart nearby in Durham, buying things for a turtle the children had found.
Andrew Young testified that he had a long conversation with Edwards outside the store. National Enquirer photographers had been at the Youngs' house in the gated Governor's Club in Chapel Hill the night before peering through the windows, upsetting the three small children.
Now Andrew Young and others were devising a scheme to come up with a different story, hoping to turn the focus away from Edwards.
"The first thought in my mind was 'How in the world can Mr. Edwards ask one more thing of me, of us?' Of course I was mad. I picked up the food and left."
Rielle Hunter, she said, was no happier with that suggestion at the start, either.
Then, according to Cheri Young's testimony, there was a phone call during which both Youngs, Edwards and Hunter were involved.
Cheri Young said Edwards did most of the talking. He spoke of how far they all had come, of what they could accomplish, mentioned his ill-wife and told the Youngs he loved them and would take care of them, Cheri Young recalled.
By the end of a tense night, Cheri Young said, not only was her husband on board with the idea, but so was Hunter.
"He was willing to do it," Cheri Young said of her husband, "because it was the only shot they had to cover it up."
Cheri Young said she felt as though the whole problem had been dumped on her, and if she did not go along, the campaign would fall apart.
"I didn't want to be responsible for blowing up the campaign," Cheri Young said.
Cheri Young's testimony has shifted the trial back toward the issue for jurors to decide.
First they will be asked to consider whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars that went from two wealthy donors to the plan to hide Hunter from the media are campaign donations. They then must decide not only whether Edwards knew about the payments, but whether he knew they should have been reported as campaign finances.
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