“Jurors have an intuitive radar for the truth, and what’s credible, and who’s credible.”
That was what John Edwards told me on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2001, as an explanation of why he had been so successful as a trial lawyer.
Yeah, I know.
At that moment, we were in an SUV traveling between Wilkesboro, N.C., and Mount Airy, which is famous as the hometown of Andy Griffith and the real-life model for Mayberry. Behind the wheel was Andrew Young, the one-time aide who is now the prosecution’s chief witness against the former senator and presidential candidate.
This week, I find myself thinking back to the three days that I spent traveling the state with Edwards, Young and the senator’s then-press secretary, Mike Briggs. So I dug into my file drawer, and found the old,. yellowing notebook from that trip.
The junior senator from North Carolina was rapidly becoming the darling of the political world--and I furthered that storyline with the subsequent article I wrote for TIME Magazine, headlined “The Democrats’ New Golden Boy.”
But I was also struck by Young, who was a type of adoring aide you often see in politicians’ organizations. Driving (at high speeds that were the subject of constant ribbing by the senator) was only part of the job.
It also fell to Andrew to make sure that enough time was set aside each day for Edwards to take a jog, that there were freshly pressed shirts available for frequent changes, that the restaurants where we stopped at night had cold Chardonnay waiting, and that there was always a Diet Coke at the ready. In those days, Edwards had a pretty impressive soda habit--by the count I kept on the back cover of my notebook, he had opened four by lunchtime.
All of that came through in Young’s book, which--whatever factual errors are revealed during the trial--struck me as fundamentally true.
Edwards told me that persuasiveness was only part of what it took to win over a jury. “The most important thing is for you to be better prepared than any human being in that courtroom,” he said.
And he also seemed confident that he could pretty much talk his way out of any situation.
“I always feel like, if I get a chance to explain what I did, and how I did it, ” Edwards said, “it will be okay.”
Little could he have known how all those premises would be tested one day.