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The John Edwards trial: where it is; where it's going


GREENSBORO, N.C. — After an eventful first five days, here are three keys as the John Edwards case moves on to week two:

Did the defense's cross-examination of Andrew Young destroy the government's case?
Stymied by technical glitches (no mike, a balky video player), frequently sustained objections and a somewhat scattershot approach, the cross-examination of Edwards' former aide by lead defense attorney Abbe Lowell got off to a halting start. But by Day Two, Lowell's questioning of Young had turned surgical. Time and again, Lowell forced Young to acknowledge inconsistencies among his past statements, and between those statements and his courtroom testimony. The centerpiece came when Young acknowledged that most of the $925,000 the government contends went to cover up Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter was, in fact, kept by Young and his wife, Cheri, to finance a family manse.

By the end, Lowell (solemn-faced and in a dark suit) had the air of an undertaker while Young (fatigued and evidencing a gray pallor atop his tanned faced) looked funeral-ready. And yet ... I'm not sure the government's theory of the case got buried by the cross-examination. No matter how much of the money trail led to the money pit that was the Youngs' dream home, some amount of political supporter money well above the $2,300 individual contribution limit benefited Hunter. Indeed, Edwards admitted as much in his trial brief filed in mid-April: "[T]here is no doubt that payments by Ms. Mellon and Mr. Baron covered Ms. Hunter's personal expenses (and much more so, the Youngs' personal expenses, such as the construction of their dream home." So, while Lowell's cross of Young was good lawyering and great theater, the government's prosecution theory likely survived it.

Full trial coverage from NBC News and

Analysis by Hampton Dellinger

Did Andrew Young damage the prosecution more during his direct examination?
Ultimately, Young's answers in three areas of questioning during his direct examination may prove more helpful to Edwards than the admissions forced out of him by Lowell on cross. First, Young made it clear that neither Rachel "Bunny" Mellon nor Fred Baron expected anything in return for their largesse, thus confirming that this isn't the typical quid pro quo political corruption case.

Second, Young testified that both he and Edwards told Mellon that her donations were intended to aid Edwards with a personal matter, not a political one.

Third, Young said Edwards consistently reassured him that the arrangement was legal. The last point is a huge one: If the government was counting on Young to establish that Edwards knew the Baron-Mellon financial support for his mistress ran afoul of federal election laws, his testimony proved a major disappointment.

Is an anti-Andrew Young train coming and, if so, how long is it?
Given that the defense was able to turn the trial of Edwards into the trial of Young during much of Week One, prosecutors have to be worried about a possible parade of witnesses coming to the stand to disparage Young's character and dispute his recollection. We can't know for sure until they take the stand, but there are indications that potential defense witnesses such as respected North Carolina lawyer David Kirby, acclaimed author Robert Draper and veteran pollster Harrison Hickman may offer event accounts that differ dramatically from Young's.

This trial is a long way from over. But it's fair to say that, thanks to Young's direct testimony as much as anything else, prosecutors likely see some hard work ahead before they will feel comfortable resting the government's case.

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