Rachel "Bunny" Mellon's longtime attorney testified that Mellon gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to John Edwards out of "a deep friendship." NBC's Lisa Myers reports from Greensboro, N.C.
The lawyer for Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the billionaire heiress who bankrolled payments to support John Edwards' mistress, testified forcefully Monday that Mellon considered the payments to be gifts to Edwards, not campaign contributions.
The distinction is critical. The government contends that those payments — and about $250,000 from a second wealthy supporter — constituted illegal and unreported donations to Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign. Edwards, who is charged in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., with six felony counts, argues that they were separate from the campaign and therefore legal.
Mellon, heiress to the Mellon banking fortune, made the payments, which were falsely labeled as being for furniture purchases, because of her deep friendship with Edwards and her desire to help him with a "personal problem," her lawyer, Alex Forger, testified.
After Mellon, who is now 101, lost her husband and her daughter, she had few close friends and took a liking to Edwards "as a person not because he was running for president," Forger said. "If he wanted to be president of Duke University, she would have supported that."
Forger also testified about a conversation with the middleman who handled the checks, Bryan Huffman, Mellon's interior decorator.
"He said the senator did not or should not know" about the money, Forger said, adding that he later thought the checks might have been a scam by Andrew Young, Edwards top aide at the time and now his chief accuser.
Former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, has faced public and private challenges throughout his life and career.
As he left the courthouse, Forger signaled A-OK to the cameras, clearly pleased with how his testimony went.
It's not the first time a prosecution witness has ended up potentially helping the defense more than the government.
Last week, Huffman testified that Mellon knew about the affair and didn't care about it. She thought the payment scheme was "foolish" but was having a "wonderful time," Huffman said.
That came after another prosecution witness, Mark Kornblau, national press spokesman for Edwards' campaign, testified that when given the opportunity to sign an affidavit that he wasn't the father of Rielle Hunter's daughter, Edwards refused because it would be an illegal lie under oath.
Prosecutors said Monday that they may finish their case as early as Thursday. It remained unclear whether they intend to call Hunter to the stand.
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