WASHINGTON — Prosecutors have obtained emails between John Edwards and a former aide to use as evidence at trial that he knew about payments to his pregnant mistress even while he was publicly denying it, people familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Monday.
Dozens of emails were exchanged between Edwards and his former speechwriter Wendy Button as they worked on a never-released draft statement to acknowledge paternity of his out-of-wedlock child, according to people who have seen the messages and requested anonymity because they have not been made public yet.
The messages, draft statements and notes of their related phone conversations are key evidence prosecutors are using against Edwards, indicted on charges he failed to report nearly $1 million allegedly spent to keep his mistress out of the public eye as he pursued the White House. The former senator was still denying he was the baby’s father and publicly maintained he knew nothing about any money that may have been spent when the emails were sent in summer 2009.
Prosecutors must prove the 2004 vice presidential nominee had knowledge of the payments to convict him in the campaign finance case. Edwards proclaimed his innocence of any crime after being indicted Friday.
His attorneys declined to comment on the evidence revealed to the AP.
The six felony charges came after intense negotiations in which prosecutors first insisted Edwards plead to a felony, but they ultimately offered him the chance to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and serve a jail sentence, according to people with knowledge of the talks who requested anonymity to discuss the private discussions. Edwards, a single father since his estranged wife’s death in December, was interested in reaching a deal but refused to accept anything that would take him away from his children, according to a person close to the talks. By definition, a misdemeanor could carry jail time of no more than one year.
During the talks, prosecutors presented their evidence to Edwards to encourage him to take a deal. A person who has seen the e-mails described the following context:
Button worked on the 2004 Edwards presidential campaign, continued to write his speeches between his two White House bids and was brought on to help with some drafts toward the end of the 2008 campaign. She reached out to her former boss in July 2009, when he had yet to admit he fathered a child with his former videographer, Rielle Hunter.
The presidential race was long over by then, but the reports continued to dog Edwards. News media reported that Edwards’ former aide Andrew Young was writing a book about how he falsely claimed paternity of the child at Edwards’ request. Edwards’ former campaign finance chairman Fred Baron had come out a year earlier to admit that he sent Young and Hunter money to keep them out of the media, but claimed Edwards hadn’t known about the payments.
Button emailed Edwards urging him to admit paternity so he could move on with his life. She acknowledged not knowing all the facts, according to email prosecutors have obtained. But she suspected a cover-up and attached a draft statement for him to consider in which he would admit being father of the child, Frances Quinn Hunter, and apologize to Young and Baron.
Edwards responded by asking her to call him, and in their phone call he admitted he was the father and said they should craft a statement together that told the truth, according to notes of the call Button took to guide her drafts. But he insisted she take out any apology to Young because of bad blood between the two, according to the notes now in the hands of prosecutors.