Heilemann and Halperin: Who Is Andrew Young?

By
Young with his wife, Cheri, on 20/20. Photo: ABC/ Logan Mock-Bunting

You’ve been hearing his name for days already, and soon you’re going to be hearing more, what with his network star turn Friday on ABC’s 20/20 and Nightline, followed Saturday by the publication of his tell-all book, The Politician. We’re talking about Andrew Young, of course, the former aide to John Edwards, who, having spent many years effusively praising Caesar, now comes to bury him.

Beyond whatever lurid (or, should we say, more lurid) details Young has to offer about his erstwhile boss’s affair with and impregnation of Rielle Hunter, the public fascination with the 43-year-old attorney revolves around the bizarro role he played in the attempted cover-up of the Edwards scandal. To wit: What kind of fellow would agree to claim paternity of a child that wasn’t his in order to protect his patron? What exactly was the nature of his relationship to Edwards — and, not incidentally, his wife, Elizabeth? Who is this guy, really?

In The Politician, Young claims that Edwards told him at one point that he was “a friend like no friend I’ve ever had.” And this appears to have been true — for a couple of reasons, as we discovered in the course of reporting our own book, Game Change, about the 2008 election. (Read an excerpt on the Edwards campaign from Game Change here.)

For one thing, despite all his outward geniality and sociability, Edwards was a man with a surprisingly small circle of genuine intimates. His relationship with Young was unusual in that the aide was always welcome in the Edwards home, where he spent hours lounging around, chewing the fat, watching basketball on TV with his employer.

But what made the friendship even more out of the ordinary was the level of subservience on which it was based. Although Young is sometimes now described as Edwards’s former “finance director,” and although it’s true that he did do some fund-raising, his primary role was that of the ne plus ultra factotum. His duties revolved around the most menial of chores, from picking up Edwards’s dry cleaning to shuttling him to and from the airport to (literally) taking out his trash.

Among Edwards’s more senior advisers, Young’s slavish fealty to his boss was the source of constant mockery and derision. “Butt-boy” was a term frequently invoked, along with “ass-kisser.” Young sometimes served as Edwards’s “body man,” doing advance work for him on campaign swings. One oft-repeated joke in the Edwards circle was that if Young’s own grandmother was standing in the way, he would shove her aside to clear a path for the candidate.

By all accounts, Young loved the trappings of power, and often leveraged his connection to Edwards into small but tasty perks. Just before the holidays in 2006, when the furor over the release of Sony’s PlayStation 3 was at its peak, the AP broke a story that an Edwards aide had contacted a Wal-Mart in Chapel Hill to try to secure the game console for Edwards’s kids ahead of a long waiting list of customers.

The story was embarrassing because Edwards had spent much of the year attacking Wal-Mart for its anti-union ways — indeed, on that very day, he was bashing the company on a conference call with labor activists. As it turns out, the PS3-seeking aide was Young. And though Edwards claimed it was all an innocent mishap, many former staffers believe that Young was in fact not trying to get the video game for Edwards’s children, but for his own.

Whereas Young’s bond with John Edwards was tight, his relationship with Elizabeth was fraught. Almost from the start, Elizabeth chafed at the aide’s obsequiousness, the way that he fed what another Edwards adviser referred to as the “ego monster” that ultimately came to dominate the former senator’s personality. She thought that Young was a waste of money and tried to have him fired on more than one occasion. Elizabeth, aides said, also appeared to be jealous of the tight connection Young shared with her husband, an emotion she evinced whenever anyone outside the family, man or woman, got close to John.

And that was before she began to suspect — correctly — that Young was enabling her husband’s dalliance with Hunter. Once that suspicion set in, Elizabeth’s enmity toward Young, not surprisingly, grew titanic.

In the early part of 2007, after Elizabeth first became aware of the affair, she also learned that Hunter, as we report in Game Change, had spent time in her home months earlier while she was out of town — lolling around the Edwards’ new mansion, chatting with her kids and John’s parents. When Elizabeth discovered that Young had facilitated the visit, she forbade him from setting foot inside the house again, forcing Young routinely to wait outside on the porch when he came to pick up John.

One day, however, Young crossed the threshold, carrying John’s luggage after ferrying him from the airport. Elizabeth screamed, “Get the fuck out of my house!” But John defiantly stuck by his manservant. Calmly, he walked over to Young and said, “Thank you, Andrew. You have a great night.” The metaphorical slap to Elizabeth’s face was chilling and brutish — and foreshadowed the horrors to come.

Months later, when Young claimed paternity of Hunter’s still-unborn child, the members of the Edwardsphere were sickened, and somewhat taken aback. Many of them remembered that, a few years earlier, Young had informed them (ad nauseam) about his having had a vasectomy — thus rendering absurd the lie that he was telling. But given Young’s extreme servility to and borderline worship of John, they found it all too plausible that he would be willing to play the fall guy.

What they also suspected, though, was that money was involved. Young liked the high life, and Edwards’s other aides assumed that he would have worked a sweet payoff into the arrangement. And this, as we now know, thanks to Young, was true. A gusher of cash was showered on him and Hunter from the accounts of Edwards’s late friend and former finance chair, Fred Baron.

Eventually, however, the money ran out. (Baron died in late 2008.) Young was left high and dry, living in an expensive house in North Carolina — with an unfinished swimming pool out back, according to one Young acquaintance — and no obvious means of support.

Anyone searching for his motive in publishing The Politician need look no further.

Related: Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster [NYM]