GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Another former close aide to John Edwards testified Thursday about bungled efforts to keep the former presidential candidate’s affair hidden from staff members, including an awkward encounter when his mistress showed up at a hotel weeks after her work filming Mr. Edwards had ended.
For months in 2006, John Davis said, staff members were concerned that Rielle Hunter, who was hired as a videographer, was becoming too close to Mr. Edwards. For example, while other staff members called him “Sen. Edwards,” Ms. Hunter called him “Johnny” or “John,” Mr. Davis said.
“Rielle is a very unique personality,” Mr. Davis said. “Everyone else on the team had a political background. Rielle didn’t have that sort of resume. … She talked a lot about meditation and yogis.”
Mr. Davis, who traveled with Mr. Edwards in 2006 and 2007, is one of several former aides who have testified about their suspicion or knowledge of the affair during Mr. Edwards’ campaign finance corruption trial. At issue is money from wealthy donors that was used in an attempt to keep the candidate’s affair with Ms. Hunter out of public view.
Mr. Edwards’ attorneys have said he didn’t know about the money, and he has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign-finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.
Ms. Hunter’s contract with the Edwards organization wasn’t renewed at the end of 2006, days after a campaign event at which Mr. Davis said he saw the Democrat’s wife crying after seeing her husband with the videographer.
But Mr. Davis said Ms. Hunter didn’t go away. In February 2007, he ran into her in an elevator at the candidate’s Detroit hotel.
“We exchanged brief pleasantries,” Mr. Davis said. “I would have preferred not to have seen her.”
When he saw that she pushed the button for Mr. Edwards’ floor — where Mr. Davis also had his room — he stopped on another floor just so he could get into a different elevator car. Shortly after, he was on the phone with his wife to express his shock at seeing Ms. Hunter. He heard a knock at the door of his room. It was the mistress, who came in to talk.
“She told me that she and Sen. Edwards were very much in love and that he was concerned that I had seen her,” Mr. Davis said.
The next morning, Mr. Edwards called Mr. Davis to his room and, without being asked, denied that he was having an affair with Ms. Hunter. During the period in question, Mr. Davis was serving as Mr. Edwards’ body man — a close assistant who travels with a politician or candidate to handle a variety of tasks.
“He told me she was crazy and that we should make sure she didn’t talk to him,” Mr. Davis said.
Asked if he believed Mr. Edwards, Mr. Davis replied, “I chose to believe him.”
But not long after his encounter with Ms. Hunter, a change was made in hotel arrangements. Mr. Davis said he always had stayed in a room close to the candidate, but the staff began staying on a different floor than Mr. Edwards during trips.
“Mr. Edwards suggested maybe a little separation would be good,” he said.
During a trip in September 2007, Mr. Davis said, he went to Mr. Edwards’ hotel room to retrieve a cellphone that the candidate had borrowed from him. When he got to the room, he could hear what sounded like a speakerphone conversation through the door, and he was able to discern both Mr. Edwards’ and Ms. Hunter’s voices.
“I heard him ask Rielle if she was showing yet,” Mr. Davis said. Ms. Hunter gave birth to Mr. Edwards’ child the following February. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte, N.C.
Just how much Mr. Edwards knew about the effort to keep his pregnant mistress — and later his baby — hidden from the public is at the heart of the government’s criminal case. After tabloid reporters tracked down Ms. Hunter in New Jersey in September 2007, one of Mr. Edwards’ closest aides, Andrew Young, brought Ms. Hunter to live with his wife and three children in Chapel Hill, a few miles from the sprawling estate Mr. Edwards shared with his family.
Mr. Young was so well known for doing anything Mr. Edwards might ask of him, other staffers used the snarky nickname “Rose Petals” behind his back.
When reporters photographed the pregnant Ms. Hunter outside a grocery story that December, Mr. Young and his wife flew with Ms. Hunter on a private jet to Florida, and they checked into a luxury waterfront hotel. It was the start of a cross-country odyssey of stays in posh resorts and rented mansions paid for by Mr. Edwards’ campaign finance chairman, a wealthy Texas lawyer named Fred Baron.
During his testimony, Mr. Davis recounted a conversation he heard between Mr. Baron and Mr. Edwards in the fall of 2007 on the finance chairman’s jet. Mr. Baron’s plane was routinely used to fly Mr. Edwards to political events in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states.
Mr. Davis said he couldn’t remember the exact date but knew the conversation occurred after a tabloid story exposing Mr. Edwards’ affair.
With Mr. Davis sitting inches away, the aide testified, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Baron discussed Hunter.
Mr. Davis recalled that Mr. Baron told Mr. Edwards that “the press wasn’t going to find Ms. Hunter because of the way he was moving her around so much.”
Mr. Davis, who by then knew the stories about the affair and pregnancy were true, said he told Mr. Baron to stop talking.
“I didn’t want to be aware of this,” Mr. Davis testified.
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