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People Top 5
LAST UPDATE: Thursday June 20, 2013 06:10AM EDT
PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- May 14, 2012
- Vol. 77
- No. 20
John Edwards' Trial Bombshells and Betrayals
Accused of Using Campaign Money to Hide His Mistress, the Former Presidential Candidate Is in the Fight of His Life
He had good reason to be distracted. On trial for allegedly misusing presidential campaign funds to hide an extramarital relationship with Rielle Hunter, 48, Edwards, 58, faces a fine of $1.5 million and up to 30 years in prison if convicted. And from the get-go, the proceedings have tossed up lurid detail upon detail about the lengths Edwards and former staffer Andrew Young went to to hide his affair with Hunter from his wife, Elizabeth, who died of breast cancer in 2010. On the day of Emma Claire's party, Young testified that Edwards had called Hunter-with whom he is now raising daughter Quinn, 4-a "crazy slut." But with Cate and his elderly parents by his side in court-and a risk that his motherless children Emma Claire and Jack, 12, could see their father go to prison-Edwards remains stoic. "They're trying their best to make life as normal as possible for the kids," says a source.
That's a tough job as the former Democratic presidential candidate and his family are forced daily to relive the desperate cover-up of an affair that ended his 33-year marriage and extinguished any hope of a return to politics. "The epic flameout of John Edwards is a 'fall from grace' story so bizarre and tragic you'd be hard-pressed to find a screenwriter with the chutzpah to make it up," says Doug Thornell, strategist with the Washington, D.C., firm SKDKnickerbocker. Among the claims from Young (who has immunity): Edwards used a secret cell phone, dubbed the "bat phone," to chat with Hunter after Elizabeth discovered the affair; Edwards was furious when he learned Hunter was pregnant; and most important for the prosecution's case, Edwards urged Young to claim that he (Andrew) fathered Hunter's child and to ask supporters Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Fred Baron for the more than $1 million that helped keep Hunter out of the public eye. Edwards's lawyer instructed jurors to "follow the money," much of which Young admitted under cross-examination by attorney Abbe Lowell was used to pay for the Youngs' lavish home.
As sensational as the allegations are, experts say they don't necessarily prove that Edwards broke the law. Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, notes the money in question was "never part of campaign coffers." Ultimately, however, the intricacies of campaign-finance rules may not matter as much as the personalities involved. "Where there are no good guys, juries have been known to make decisions based on their intense like or dislike for a party," says Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney in Virginia. "If I were defending John Edwards, I'd be reluctant to break out the champagne prematurely."
Coming soon to the witness stand are Hunter (see box) and Cate, herself a lawyer, who is in the unenviable position of supporting her father's case but not forgiving his actions. "She doesn't want anyone to interpret her presence at her dad's side to be mistaken for condoning his behavior," says a source close to the family. "But she believes he didn't break any law, and she's going to do what she can to keep him out of prison." Edwards, once a top trial lawyer, is having a tough time sitting quietly in court. That is understandable, says Texas attorney David Berg, who has followed the case. "The remainder of his life-the way he lives it, the way he feels when he looks in the mirror-rides on this trial."
- Sandra Sobieraj Westfall/Washington,
- Wendy Grossman Kantor/Greensboro,
- Michaele Ballard/Greensboro,
- Elizabeth McNeil/New York City.
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