Edwards’ fate hinges on ex-right-hand man and wife

Apr 29, 2012, 3:53 PM

Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Andrew Young first saw John Edwards speak at an oceanfront hotel in 1998. He was captivated by the U.S. Senate candidate’s speech and told his future wife Edwards was going to be president someday _ and he was going to work for him.

She rolled her eyes.

Young wound up becoming one of Edwards’ closest aides, so intoxicated by the power and money he claimed to be the father of Edwards’ child to take the heat off of his boss. Young recalled telling his wife, Cheri, about the plan he said Edwards concocted.

“Are you out of your mind? Why would you even tell me about this? Why didn’t you just say no?” Young, now 46, wrote of his wife’s reaction.

Despite the outrageous lies and years of cover-ups, Cheri and Andrew Young have stayed together. They are now reliving their volatile relationship with the Edwards family as the star witnesses in the former presidential candidate’s campaign corruption trial.

“Anything that the Edwardses needed to be handled, he did it,” Cheri, 38, said as she began her testimony Friday. That included everything from picking up the Democrat at the airport, to doing yard work or buying Christmas presents for the Edwards children.

She said her husband’s long work hours and dedication to his boss led to tension in their marriage, “because he was never able to do those things for my family.”

Prosecutors accuse Edwards of using campaign money from wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Young testified for five days last week. He said Edwards knew the money was being spent to hide Hunter, but also acknowledged that he used much of the funds to build his North Carolina dream house.

Edwards’ attorneys have assailed Andrew Young’s credibility, disputing claims he made in a tell-all book and painting him as a pathological liar. Questions also arose in the courtroom this week about what the judge termed “a one-night stand” Young is accused of having with a married campaign staffer.

Young’s wife of 12 years has stuck by her husband, even agreeing to live with Hunter for months as they were hiding from the public eye.

Young dedicated his book, “The Politician,” to his wife. He praised her understanding as he worked long hours to get into Edwards’ inner circle, and her discretion as he shared Edwards’ secrets.

Andrew Young graduated from Wake Forest University law school. His wife was a nurse.

They met while he was fetching drinks for a friend at a bar called Senor Frog’s in Cancun, Mexico. Years later, their relationship faced a test, when Young told her Edwards had asked to let Hunter live with them because tabloid reporters were trying to link the politician and his mistress. Edwards’ lawyers contend it was the other way around, with Young volunteering to take the fall.

“Cheri had seen so much crazy stuff where the Edwardses were concerned that she wasn’t exactly surprised,” Young recounted in his book. “Instead, she was angry and disgusted. But she trusted me enough to just shake her head in a weary way and say OK.”

Things would get crazier in December 2007, when Young said Edwards called him as he ran errands with his wife and asked his aide to claim he was the father of Hunter’s baby to head off the tabloid speculation.

In his book, Young said he told his wife what Edwards wanted as they bought a Happy Meal at McDonald’s for one of their three children. The children were with them much of the time they were avoiding the tabloids.

Young also mentioned in the book that he saw a copy of Newsweek with Edwards’ face on the cover as they spoke, but Edwards’ attorney noted this week that the issue actually didn’t hit newsstands for at least another week. It was one of several details in the book Edwards’ attorneys have challenged.

While they were on the run, the Youngs were trying to build a 5,400-square-foot house. Edwards’ campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, promised a 130 percent raise, and up to $1.2 million was going to flow through the couple’s accounts to pay for Hunter and Young’s family.

On the stand Friday, Young admitted he kept about $1 million and that much of it went to expand their home and add luxury amenities, such as a $100,000 swimming pool and another $100,000 in home theater equipment.

By early 2008, Edwards’ Democratic presidential campaign ran out of steam, and by the summer, the Youngs were ready to head home and the wealthy benefactors appeared tired of opening their checkbooks.

When they got back to North Carolina, the Youngs said they found a videotape marked “special” in a box of Hunter’s things in a home they rented for her. The tape had been pulled from the case and cut. Andrew Young put it back together. He said in his book he and his wife were stunned when they realized they were watching a sex tape made by Edwards and Hunter.

“When we were able to talk, we debated turning it off, but neither of us could actually press the button. It was like watching a traffic pileup occur in slow motion _ it was repelling, but also transfixing,” Young wrote.

Young’s book begins at a youth baseball field in Chapel Hill in 2009, a year after Edwards and his longtime confidante last met on a deserted road. At that meeting, Edwards told Young the poverty foundation he promised was not going to come through. Young told Edwards he had the sex tape, text messages, voice mails and notes and was going to go public.

On the baseball field, Edwards’ and Young’s sons were on opposite teams. Young said Edwards never looked his way and left early.

This week in a federal courtroom, as Young became the prosecution’s star witness in their effort to put his one-time idol in prison, Edwards stared at the man he once called part of his family. Young never once met his gaze.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Edwards’ fate hinges on ex-right-hand man and wife