Effort to protect Edwards appears more extensive

August 15, 2008|By New York Times News Service

As tabloid reports of a sex scandal threatened former Sen. John Edwards' presidential campaign last December on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, two lawyers surfaced with written statements that appeared to exonerate him.

One, Robert J. Gordon of New York, said his client, Rielle Hunter, a pregnant 43-year-old filmmaker, was not carrying Edwards' child. Shortly thereafter, the other lawyer, Pamela J. Marple of Washington, sent word that her client, Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign aide, was the baby's father.

Seemingly issued independently of Edwards, the statements appeared to deflate the anonymously sourced reports of an Edwards affair. But what went unnoticed was that the two lawyers shared an important connection to Edwards that raises questions about whether they were part of an orchestrated effort to protect him, one that is continuing even after he admitted last week that he had an affair with Hunter but denied that he fathered her child.

The lawyers are linked through Fred Baron, a wealthy Dallas lawyer and former finance chairman for the Edwards campaign who was a key player in the campaign's response to the scandal. Gordon has worked with Baron on class-action personal injury cases, and Marple helped defend a lawsuit brought against both men and their law firms by an asbestos manufacturer.

After initially saying that he did not know how the lawyers were chosen to represent Hunter and Young, Baron acknowledged that he might have played a role.

The revelations of ties among the lawyers emerged through public records and interviews with people close to Edwards and Hunter, which suggested that their affair went on longer than Edwards admitted and that the effort to conceal it by Edwards' inner circle was much more extensive than has been reported.

The review found that Edwards' political action committee went to unusual lengths to make a final $14,000 payment to Hunter's film company months after its contract with the committee had ended. The payment was issued while the committee was short on cash and could pay its bills only after receiving thousands of dollars from Edwards' presidential campaign and donations from four people, including Baron's wife.

Furthermore, a woman who helped Hunter create a Web site on New Age spirituality in 2006 says she regularly corresponded with her about a married North Carolina man named John whom Hunter was dating in March of that year, if not earlier.

Edwards has said his affair with Hunter did not begin until after she had started doing video work for his political action committee months later.

The woman, Pigeon O'Brien, who says she worked with Hunter to build her "Being Is Free" Web site and a related foundation, said that Hunter recounted how she had met "John" at the Regency Hotel in New York in early 2006 and they had started dating soon after.

O'Brien said that Hunter made at least one trip to North Carolina in March 2006 to visit him and that, during the next few months, Hunter never made any references to Young, who later claimed to be the father of the child, or indicated that she knew him.

O'Brien recalled that Hunter, whom she had originally met in the 1980s in New York, had difficulties in dealing with the fact that John was married.

"There were stormy moments for her, a lot of tears and a lot of struggle," O'Brien said.

Gordon, Hunter's lawyer, declined to comment, citing the privacy of Hunter and her baby.

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