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 the candidate.
One of them, Robert Gordon of New York, said that his client, Rielle Hunter, a pregnant 43-year-old filmmaker, was not carrying Edwards' child. Shortly thereafter, the other lawyer, Pamela 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 tryst. 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 the effort to conceal the affair by Edwards' inner circle was 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 N.C. 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 that they had started dating soon after.
O'Brien said Hunter made at least one trip to North Carolina in March 2006 to visit him and that, during the next few months, she never made any references to Young, who later claimed to be the father of the child, or indicated that she even 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.
The precise nature and origins of Hunter's relationship with Young, Edwards' campaign aide, is unclear, because neither has spoken publicly about it. But by mid-2007, Hunter had moved into the gated community in Chapel Hill, where Young rented a house with his wife and three children. The Youngs had moved there earlier that year, after selling their house in Raleigh.
After the National Enquirer reported in October 2007 that Edwards had had an affair, Baron helped to relocate Young and Hunter.
Although he said he used his own money to pay for Young and Hunter to move to California, Baron initially said he did not know how they had chosen their lawyers.
But he has since offered conflicting explanations about his involvement in arranging for the two lawyers to step in and effectively defuse an accusation that threatened to derail Edwards' political career.
On Wednesday, Baron said he might have directed Hunter to Gordon.
“I have this recollection of somebody asking me for lawyers in New York, and I remember naming three or four, and he must have been one of them,” Baron said. Referring to Hunter, he added, “It was either her who called or somebody on her behalf.”
And on Thursday, Baron also provided a vague answer to the question of whether he was involved in introducing Young to Marple, who represented Young for a brief time and is no longer involved in the case.
“I remember getting a call from Pam and her telling me that she was representing him,” Baron said. “I may have sent him over there, but on the other hand I may not have. I don't have an accurate recollection.”
Asked whether he had lent Hunter and Young any money, Baron said, “I have a brief recollection of giving someone some cash. My assumption is I loaned some small amount of money to the both of them.” Marple declined to comment on her representation of Young. Gordon, Hunter's lawyer, said: “Ms. Hunter called me. I represent her and only her, as I would any client.”
When Hunter, her baby and the Youngs moved to California around the end of last year, they all initially lived in the same residence, according to an associate of Young and Edwards.
But the arrangement strained relationships, and Hunter moved into a different residence, which cost about $6,000 a month in rent. The associate believed that the lease on the home where the Youngs had been staying was to run out today.