Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"Bunny Money"

Bryan Huffman
Lady Bird Johnson, left, with Paul and Rachel Mellon at the National Gallery of Art, created through gifts from the Mellon family.
Jacqueline Kennedy and Rachel Mellon at a Noel Coward musical in Boston in 1961.

Edwards Case Casts Spotlight on a Long Reclusive Donor

Even in her prime, in the 1960s, when she redesigned the White House Rose Garden for her friend Jacqueline Kennedy, she avoided the public eye. So it was a rude shock to her social strata when Mrs. Mellon, known chiefly for her passion for horticulture (she has collected more than 10,000 books on botany) and her decorum, became ensnared in the protracted scandal surrounding John Edwards, the former Democratic candidate for president. Mr. Edwards was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday on charges that he violated campaign finance laws in an effort to conceal an extramarital affair while running for president in 2008, mainly by using $725,000 given to him secretly by Mrs. Mellon. Mr. Edwards pleaded not guilty, and the case is headed for trial. Mrs. Mellon was not named in the indictment — she was referred to as Person C — but is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator. Mrs. Mellon could not be reached for comment. But Bryan Huffman, a decorator from Monroe, N.C., who was the conduit for Mrs. Mellon’s checks to Mr. Edwards, said he spoke to her on Friday after the indictment. “She’s upset that the whole thing has come to this particular moment,” he said. “She is standing by Senator Edwards but is sorry that the government has pursued these charges against him.” He said she did not understand why anyone cared. Prosecution and defense officials said Friday that they could not discuss the legal implications for Mrs. Mellon, who is known as Bunny. Her lawyer declined to comment, but her team has said that the money was a personal gift and that she had no idea how Mr. Edwards used it. - KATHARINE Q. SEELYE


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