Edwards donor: I told Obama camp about affair

Former presidential candidate and Sen. John Edwards arrives at a federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, May 8, 2012. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Updated: 3:02 p.m. ET

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A onetime policy adviser to John Edwards testified Tuesday that he warned Barack Obama's presidential campaign staff in 2008 to look closely at rumors about the former North Carolina senator's infidelity before it considered offering him any position in the administration.

Chapel Hill developer Tim Toben said from the witness stand at Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial that he was astonished when Edwards told him he still had lofty political aspirations over dinner in June of 2008. At the time, Edwards' presidential bid had unraveled but he was still frequently mentioned in media speculation over who might become Obama's running mate or fill his Cabinet.

Toben, however, had firsthand knowledge of Edwards' affair with mistress Rielle Hunter.

"I was alarmed," said Toben, a Democratic donor. "I couldn't believe a man with a 4-month-old baby with another woman would seriously consider running for vice-president."

Toben was also asked about a sex tape the mistress filmed with Edwards, the first testimony about the video introduced before the jury.

During their meal at an upscale Chapel Hill restaurant, Edwards told Toben that he was still popular enough to be a nominee for vice president or for an administration post such as attorney general, Toben said. Toben said he found it "astonishing" that Edwards believed he could still merit such a position. Tabloid reports about the affair had already surfaced at that point.

After the dinner, Toben said he contacted a friend who was North Carolina director of Obama's campaign, and told him that he believed the tabloid reports were true. He advised him that they should take a hard look at Edwards before offering him anything.

Edwards appeared to have some political life left at the time. Before Edwards publicly admitted to the affair in August of 2008, observers had wondered if he would earn a spot in the administration should Obama win -- speculation that was reported in the national media. He had been expected to speak at the Democratic National Convention that year, but was left off the schedule after the affair was confirmed.

Toben testified Monday that he learned of the affair after he was asked to transport the pregnant mistress to a private jet hangar around 4 a.m. while she was on the run from tabloid reporters. He later retrieved possessions of Hunter's from a rented house in Chapel Hill that included a signed picture of Edwards. The picture was signed: "I love you, John."

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts alleging campaign finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. A key issue at the trial is how much Edwards knew about roughly $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy donors, some of which was used to hide Hunter.

The issue of Edwards' political viability between his suspension of his presidential campaign in January 2008 and his admission of the affair is another important topic at the trial. Some of the secret money came after Edwards dropped out of the race, and his defense team argues that those payments can't, therefore, be considered campaign contributions. Prosecutors point out that Edwards' campaign committee continued to exist and that Edwards still hoped to be elected or appointed to public office.

Toben was also asked in front of jurors about a sex tape that showed Edwards and Hunter. The tape was found by the former candidate's key aide, Andrew Young, who helped Hunter stay out of the public eye. Toben was Young's friend and neighbor.

Asked by Edwards' defense lawyers about the "personal and private video," Toben admitted he had jokingly talked to Young about how much the sex tape might be worth. The defense lawyers produced a 2009 email from Toben to Young that said: "Wonder what that tape is worth today?"

Young is now a key witness for prosecutors, and Edwards' lawyers have tried to portray him as greedy and dishonest. Young and his wife have testified that they had no intention of selling the tape but kept it as proof of the affair.

Confronted with email exchanges with Young from 2009, Toben admitted he had called Edwards unflattering and occasionally profane names, but denied he carried any hostility against the politician he once considered a friend.

"I thought he betrayed the trust of the people he spoke for," Toben said, referring to the poverty-stricken Americans whom Edwards sought to represent through philanthropic foundations.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.