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Ex-aide to John Edwards details final meeting with boss

Former U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Edwards makes a brief statement to the press outside of the U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem
Former U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Edwards makes a brief statement to the press outside of the U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem

By Colleen Jenkins

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The campaign aide who wrote a tell-all book about efforts to hide former U.S. Senator John Edwards' pregnant mistress testified on Wednesday about his ex-boss' response when the aide threatened to expose him during a final, contentious encounter.

"You can't hurt me, Andrew," Edwards said, according to testimony by aide Andrew Young. "You can't hurt me."

Young, the key government witness in the federal campaign finance prosecution of Edwards, said the conversation took place in August 2008 on a country road in North Carolina near the former senator's home. The aide and his family had spent months on the run helping to shield Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, from the media.

At Edwards' request, the married Young had falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child and solicited more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors to conceal the affair and pregnancy and avoid destroying Edwards' campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Young said.

But as they sat in an SUV off the road, Edwards denied knowing anything about the payments, according to Young.

"He was very nervous, and he was sweating," Young testified. "He was acting very oddly. It was surreal."

Edwards, 58, faces possible prison time if convicted of federal election law violations, including charges of conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.

Prosecutors finished questioning Young on Wednesday. In their cross-examination, Edwards' attorneys are likely to attack Young's character and credibility. Already, Young has admitted there are falsehoods in his 2010 book, "The Politician," about Edwards and the plot to cover up the affair with Hunter.

Edwards, a two-time presidential hopeful who was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, shook his head at times during Young's testimony. The two men were once close; prosecutors played voicemail recordings on Wednesday in which Edwards told Young that he loved him.

Young said one of the wealthy donors, Fred Baron, told him his role in helping to conceal Hunter and the baby from the public was crucial to Edwards' political future as a possible vice presidential nominee.

ELABORATE COVERUP

Edwards, then a married father of three, had repeatedly denied reports that he was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2010.

Young and his family traveled with Hunter to luxury locations in Florida, Colorado and California, riding in private jets and staying at fancy hotels and homes paid for by Baron. Young said Hunter, who gave birth to a daughter in February 2008, used the assumed name Jaya James.

Hunter for a time had worked as a videographer for Edwards' campaign but lost her job after Elizabeth Edwards found out about the affair, Young said.

Young said he went along with the plan to get money from Baron and heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon because he believed John Edwards should be president. After Edwards dropped out of the race, Young still hoped to get a job at a foundation Edwards wanted to create to tackle poverty issues.

But he grew angry when Edwards refused to come clean about fathering a child with Hunter and clear Young's name. Young said his reputation was badly damaged, hurting his chances for future employment.

At his final meeting with Edwards, Young said he threatened to reveal the truth if Edwards didn't do it himself.

In May 2011, the government granted Young immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation and truthful testimony. Edwards was indicted in June.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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