Edwards' ally explains $14K payment to mistress

August 15, 2008 6:27:01 AM PDT
John Edwards' political action committee paid his mistress $14,000 after she stopped working for it to obtain 100 hours of unused videotape she had shot for his unsuccessful presidential campaign, an associate told The Associated Press on Thursday. The woman, Rielle Hunter, already had been paid $100,000 for the programs.

The explanation -- which Edwards' advisers declined to discuss on the record -- is the first effort to justify the payment in April 2007 to Hunter. That payment came months before Edwards' chief fundraiser quietly began sending money himself to the pregnant woman.

Edwards last week acknowledged he had an affair with Hunter in 2006. The former Democratic presidential contender and senator from North Carolina has denied any knowledge of those payments to Hunter from Fred Baron, Edwards' national finance chairman and a wealthy Dallas-based trial attorney. Baron also has described his payments to Hunter as a private transaction.

But the $14,000 payment to Hunter is significant because its source was Edwards' OneAmerica political action committee, whose expenditures are governed by U.S. election laws. Willfully converting money from a political action committee for personal use would have been a federal criminal violation.

An associate of Edwards, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the $14,000 was paid to Hunter only after she relinquished about 100 hours of cutting-room floor videotape excerpts that were not part of four short Web videos she had produced for Midline Groove Ltd. in 2006.

Legal experts said it was important for Edwards to demonstrate the political action committee wasn't paying Hunter merely to keep quiet about the affair.

"One thing that's possible is that she was still owed money from what she'd done before for the political action committee, but obviously there are less charitable explanations," said Richard Hasen, a professor specializing in campaign finance law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Edwards insisted during an interview Aug. 8 that he broke off the affair and confessed his infidelity to wife Elizabeth in 2006. But Hunter appeared at campaign events in the final days of December. One such event was his formal campaign announcement in New Orleans, which Elizabeth did not attend.

Edwards said several times in his interview with ABC News the affair was short-lived.

But there is evidence that Edwards and Hunter spent months together in 2006, traveling the world and the country as he prepared for his second run for the White House.

One of Hunter's friends, Pigeon O'Brien, told the AP that Hunter told her the affair with "John from North Carolina," who was married to a woman who had been seriously ill, began in March 2006. That conflicts with Edwards' statement the affair started only after he hired Hunter to produce several videos for his Web site, the first payment for which came in July 2006.

Hunter and a business partner founded Midline Groove in June 2006.

Both John Edwards said last week he did not plan to speak again about the affair, and a former campaign official who has been acting as a spokeswoman reiterated this week he will not discuss the subject. It's not clear where Hunter is currently living, and a women who answered at her attorney's office this week refused to take a message.

Hunter's sister, reached at her home in Nevada, also refused to comment.

"I talked to John (Tuesday) and he's not doing well," said David "Mudcat" Saunders, who served as Edwards' chief adviser on rural affairs. "He's just -- to be very frank with you -- he's just not doing well. He needs to be concentrating on himself and his family at this point in his life. He's a good boy. He just made a hell of a mistake."

Edwards has denied Hunter was paid to cover up the affair, and said he had no knowledge that Baron was sending money to both her and a married Edwards staffer who later claimed to be the father of Hunter's daughter. She was born in February 2008.

In a brief interview this week, Baron reiterated that Edwards and his wife were not involved with his actions. He said no campaign funds were used and that Hunter and Young were not working for the campaign when he started giving them money.

"The bottom line to it is John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards had no knowledge of anything I did," Baron said. "I did it as a friend."

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