NEW: A lawyer says he warned his client about rules given her large Edwards donations
NEW: The lawyer says Edwards claimed ignorance, but his lawyer did not
An ex-adviser says he had two talks with Edwards about his relationship with Rielle Hunter
Peter Scher says Edwards denied affair, then told him to "back off" after being pressed
A former adviser recalled Friday how he urged John Edwards to steer clear of a campaign videographer, later revealed to be his mistress. But the then-presidential candidate refused, Peter Scher said in court.
He said that “I should back off, he didn’t need a baby sitter,” Scher testified during Edwards’ felony trial.
The former outside adviser’s testimony Friday provided jurors with yet another perspective on Edwards’ handling of questions about his relationship with Rielle Hunter, whom he later admitted to having an affair and fathering a child with while seeking the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination.
Prosecutors say Edwards broke federal law by accepting about $725,000 from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and more than $200,000 from Fred Baron, a now-deceased Texas lawyer who was his finance chairman.
That money was used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, travel and accommodations to keep the mistress out of sight while Edwards made his second White House run, prosecutors say.
Mellon’s lawyer, Alex Forger, recalled Friday in the federal court in Greensboro, North Carolina, that he became aware of the scheme in September 2007, when his client almost bounced a $150,000 check.
Forger testified that he discovered Mellon was sending funds to an interior decorator friend, who would endorse the checks so they would go into the account of the wife of Andrew Young, a top Edwards aide. Cheri Young confirmed this scenario, in her earlier testimony.
The lawyer said he’d told the now 101-year-old Mellon – after she called to ask him, “How do you write a $175,000 check?” – that she could give such an amount as a personal gift to Edwards, but not to his campaign given campaign finance restrictions.
Eventually, Forger said he called Edwards, who denied that he knew anything about the checks. But months later, Forger said that lawyer Wade Smith told him that his client, Edwards, “acknowledges now that this (money) was for his benefit.”
How exactly was the money used? Cheri Young has testified that funds from wealthy benefactors went to pay Hunter’s expenses, including at least $8,000 for a California-based spiritual adviser, and pay for whirlwind travels so Hunter could escape the media on private planes around the holidays during the winter of 2007-2008.
Andrew Young, moreover, admitted during questioning he used some donations were for he and his family’s benefit – including to fund construction of a home that included a pool and a theater.
Scher testified on Friday that he learned in 2007 about “gossip” about a questionable relationship between the former U.S. senator from North Carolina and Hunter and stepped in, at the urging of campaign staffer Josh Brumberger.
After that request, Scher said he met with Edwards in New York in September of that year to address “the concerns” in person.
In that conversation, Edwards said: “So you’re asking if I’m sleeping with her?” recalled Scher, a lawyer who now works at JPMorgan Chase. The then-adviser said he replied, “That’s precisely what I’m asking.”
Denying the affair, Edwards did “agree” that Hunter should no longer travel with his campaign. Scher said he had warned the then-married Edwards that he shouldn’t continue his presidential run if he was, indeed, having an affair – adding, “The truth (will) come out.”
Hunter briefly left the campaign trail but, weeks later, was back on the road with the Democrats’ 2004 vice presidential nominee, Scher said.
That led to what the former adviser described as his “pretty heated” phone conversation with Edwards that October.
Scher said he ended his relationship with Edwards after the candidate cursed him out.
If convicted on all six felony counts he’s charged with – including conspiracy and making false statements – Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison.
CNN’s Joe Johns contributed to this report.