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Former U.S. presidential hopeful Edwards' defense says aide lied

By Colleen Jenkins

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator and presidential contender John Edwards' defense sharpened its attack on the government's lead witness on Friday, saying his ego and greed motivated him to take his former boss down in a federal campaign finance case.

Edwards, 58, is accused of directing ex-campaign aide Andrew Young to solicit nearly $1 million in illegal political contributions to conceal Edward's pregnant mistress during his failed 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Prosecutors say Edwards, a two-time presidential hopeful who was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, sought the money because he knew his political ambitions would be destroyed if voters learned he was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife.

But defense attorney Abbe Lowell showed it was Young who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from two wealthy donors, then earned even more off his 2010 tell-all book about Edwards' affair and the sale of the book's movie rights.

At the close of the first week of Edwards' trial in Greensboro, North Carolina, the defense continued to paint Young as a money-hungry liar who masterminded the plot to get funds from Edwards' supporters Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Fred Baron.

Using Young's tax records, the defense showed the former aide reported giving about $135,000 to Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, for her living expenses and medical care in 2007. Young received more than $500,000 from Mellon that year, it showed.

For the 2008 tax year, Young reported giving about $56,000 to Hunter, while he received more than $200,000 from Mellon and more than $300,000 from Baron, Lowell said.

Young, granted immunity from prosecution for cooperating with the government, acknowledged he did not pay income taxes on the money he pocketed from Edwards' campaign donors.

Jurors for the first time saw a photo of the large, $1.5 million home Young and his family built in North Carolina during the years in question.

Young falsely admitted to fathering Hunter's baby, which was in fact fathered by Edwards, and spent months living with her and his family in luxury accommodations around the country as part of an effort to keep Hunter away from the media.

He said Baron told him in the spring of 2008 that, as part of the cover-up, the Youngs could never return to the home they were constructing. But Lowell said Young and his wife still ordered $412,000 in upgrades and now live in the house.

Edwards, who faces prison time if convicted on any of six counts of election law violations, and his official campaign never received any of the two supporters' secret payments.

The defense contends the former North Carolina senator committed no crime because the money was meant to keep the affair hidden from Edwards' wife, not to influence the presidential election.

AIDE CONTACTED DEFENSE WITNESS

Lowell suggested on Friday that Young tried to influence a defense witness on the eve of the trial.

Young said he contacted the fellow former staffer from Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign about "a personal issue" and indicated she would "mess up everything" if she told the truth.

Young later said his concerns about the staffer's testimony had nothing to do with the facts of the case against Edwards, but jurors did not hear details about the personal issue.

Prosecutors had earlier sought to block the defense from saying Young had a one-night stand with the former co-worker in 2007, and Lowell said he didn't plan to mention it.

The prosecution objected on Friday when Lowell referred to Young as once having possession of a "private video" that had belonged to Hunter. The tape, purported to show Edwards and Hunter having sex, had not yet been mentioned during the trial.

Friday's testimony included several emotionally charged moments. Young, composed during much of his five days on the witness stand, choked up recalling the strain his role in covering up Edwards' affair had put on his family.

His wife, Cheri Young, briefly took the stand and testified about the marital tension that resulted from the long hours and menial tasks her husband endured as part of his years of service to the Edwards' family.

"He did anything and everything for every member of their family," said Cheri Young, who is expected to continue her testimony on Monday.

The close relationship between Andrew Young and Edwards ended on August 18, 2008, when the two men met for the last time on a remote road in North Carolina.

Edwards had just returned from a visit to Mellon's home, where he said he was asked about odd checks written by the heiress. Edwards told Young he knew nothing about them, according to Young.

Stunned and scared, Young said he told Edwards he had evidence of the affair and was going to reveal the truth if Edwards didn't. The ex-aide said he was angry that Edwards had failed to come through on his promises to get Young a job and to admit he was the true father of Hunter's child.

"We did everything that he asked us to do, and then he walked away from us," Young said.

Young said he felt threatened at the end of the meeting when Edwards told him, "You can't hurt me." But Lowell suggested it was Young with the ill intent.

"You were threatening him, correct?" Lowell said.

"You can interpret it however you want," Young said.

(Reporting By Colleen Jenkins; editing by Todd Eastham)

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